Starbucks unicorn frappuccino Credit: Starbucks

What the Unicorn Frappuccino Can Teach Us About Social Media Strategy

What happens when products are inspired by social media trends?  The Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino.

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen your share of pictures, posts, and commentary about the Unicorn Frappuccino in your social media feeds. 



In case you took a sabbatical from the Internet over the last week, Starbucks recently launched a super limited-edition blended beverage that changes in both color and flavor as you slurp down its cotton candy-hued content.


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According to Starbuck’s official press release:
The Unicorn Frappuccino blended crème is made with a sweet dusting of pink powder, blended into a crème Frappuccino with mango syrup and layered with a pleasantly sour blue drizzle. It is finished with vanilla whipped cream and a sprinkle of sweet pink and sour blue powder topping.
Like its mythical namesake, the Unicorn Frappuccino blended crème comes with a bit of magic, starting as a purple beverage with swirls of blue and a first taste that is sweet and fruity. But give it a stir and its color changes to pink, and the flavor evolves to tangy and tart. The more swirl, the more the beverage’s color and flavors transform.


Read:  This is the liquid love child of SweeTarts and my 3rd grade Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper.


Speaking of a keeper, here’s a 10 page strategy guide I made for you. Pretty sweet, eh?


Reactions to this glorified confectionery have been pretty strong, with many taking shots at its flavor.


But many took aim at the sugar content.

Love it, hate it, or completely ambivalent to it, it cannot be denied that Starbucks did a bang-up job in cooking up a successful social media marketing campaign that has everyone buzzing.

It should be noted that everyone was NOT buzzing on caffeine, because the Unicorn Frappuccino has NO coffee in it, folks.  It’s basically ice, milk, and flavored sugar.  And people are lining up to buy it and take pictures with it on their social media channels.


So what can we learn from the most Instagrammed drink in history to apply our branding and marketing efforts?

 Know Where To Throw The Glitter  

It is clear that they put time and research into determining who their target audience is and then built both a product and a campaign around the buyer persona that they built. The Unicorn Frappuccino wasn’t made for people who rarely share photos on social media, like gourmet roasts and prefer to purchase in the morning before work.  The Unicorn Frapp was created for those that go heavy on sharing their day through images online, make spontaneous purchases, like to stay ahead of trends, and use products as a status symbol. 

Target Market vs. Buyer Persona:  A target market is the the demographic, geographic, and behavioral characteristics of who you are selling your product or service to.  A buyer persona takes this segmentation a step further as a quasi-fictional identity of who your dream customer/client is, what they watch on Netflix, what’s in their handbag, do they prefer texts instead of phone calls, etc.

 Exploit Popular Culture + Emerging Trends 

Starbucks identified trends that appeal to their target market.  If I had to hazard a guess, some of these trends would include mermaid/rainbow/unicorn hair, 90’s throwback everything, and glitter…only now we’re calling it “unicorn dust”.  

The challenge for creative professionals is identifying and leveraging trends to grow brand awareness and exposure by drawing a connection and communicating that in your marketing.  This can include participating in a viral trend, taking product images that stylistically reflect visual trends in other industries, or creating content around something that is trending hot (::waves::).


 Build Buzz + Create Demand

Starbucks very cleverly (intentionally or not, but I’m leaning intentionally) promoted their product ahead of its launch by having images of the mystery drink and its ingredients shared through Instagram and communities such as Reddit.  As buzz mounted about what this magical concoction could be, their press release dropped on Tuesday announcing its “…limited-time offering is as fleeting as a rainbow” and that unicorn chasers had until that Sunday or until supplies lasted to hunt down the Unicorn Frappuccino.

Visually appealing beverage + “Unicorn Dust” + Instagram + Short Window of Availability + Cache of cool = Social Media Marketing Rocket Fuel

And add some snark.  Endless streams of snark.

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Want the quick + dirty on how to craft a creative marketing campaign? I gotchoo. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to throw fire and unicorn sparkles on your brand.



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