As social media branding campaigns go, Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino blitz will go down as a textbook case of how to do it right.
“It was a very smart marketing tactic,” said Kate Engineer, director of communications at Toronto-based Fervid Communications, a marketing and social media company that specializes in the hospitality industry.
The Unicorn Frappuccino, in case you’ve been absent from this planet and missed it somehow, is Starbucks’ sparkly frozen beverage and it has become a social media sensation.
The colour-changing drink, made up of “pink powder, blended into a crème Frappuccino with mango syrup and layered with a pleasantly sour blue drizzle,” as the coffee-maker described it, was only available from April 19 through April 23.
But its fleeting appearance has made a mark. From Instagram through Twitter to Reddit, the social media universe couldn’t seem to get enough of the sugar-laden drink and its pastel colours.
“I counted about 150,000 [Instagram] hashtags about it,” said Engineer.
Not all of the attention was positive.
Starbucks baristas made headlines after taking to Reddit and Twitter to complain about having to fill endless orders of the complex drink.
“But all press is good press, as long as it’s not horrible,” said Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at J.C. Williams Group, a global retail adviser.
Horrible, Atkinson explained, means something like the public relations disaster that recently engulfed United Airlines, after one of its passengers was forcibly dragged off of an overbooked flight and the scene caught on camera.
Overworked baristas and a few complaints about too much sugar do not overshadow the fact that, for a few days, everyone was talking about Starbucks, said Atkinson.
Besides, the Unicorn Frappuccino wasn’t about the eating experience, said Engineer.
Sparkles, whip cream and blue and pink swirls are meant to tap into the social media trend that celebrates “over-indulgent food images,” she noted.
In other words, ordering a Unicorn Frap is about taking a picture of it and sharing it. Inhaling the calories is optional.
The marketing genius of Starbucks was also to make the drink available for only a short time, which created a “sense of urgency” among customers, Engineer told Global News.
And it isn’t by chance that the Unicorn Frap, unlike most of Starbucks drinks, did not contain a drop of coffee.
“I’m sure that the idea there was to make it appealing to a younger demographic,” said Engineer.
Starbucks won’t say whether it will repeat the experiment any time soon. A company spokesperson contacted by Global News noted that the coffee maker has a number of seasonal drinks that make only a temporary appearance on the menu.
“At Halloween, Starbucks had Frappula Frappuccino on the menu for a few days, and last April, there was the Birthday Cake Frappuccino for the anniversary of that drink,” Madeleine Löwenborg-Frick at Starbucks Coffee Canada wrote in an email.
No word, either, on whether the Unicorn Frappuccino will become part of the regular menu.
If you missed it, though, don’t worry. Just flip through Instagram and you’ll get most of the experience.