Why the Unicorn Frappuccino nailed it

— Katie Solan 

However you feel about it, you know about it: You either saw its signature pink and purple splashed across your social media feeds, or caught a glimpse of someone holding the glitter-topped drink (either in eager anticipation or simultaneously Instagramming/Snapping/Tweeting the moment). Maybe you even bravely tried one yourself. Yes, we’re talking about the Unicorn Frappuccino.

Available for only one single (long) weekend, April 19 – 23, Starbucks’ limited edition Unicorn Frappuccino took social media by storm. The made-for-‘gramming beverage got people talking on social – it began trending on Twitter immediately, and had more than 130K Tweets during the weekend it was available. It was an undeniable marketing hit for the global coffee chain, but what can we learn from their approach (if you’re not in the business of hawking mythical twee drinks)? 

Behind the creative genius of the unexpected product, there’s some real data that supports why it worked.

Weekend timing is critical to reach millennials on social: Available for five days only, the limited-edition cache certainly drove urgency and purchase. However, the days of the week it was available are critical, too: Launched on a Wednesday with availability ending on a Sunday, the weekend was when chatter and desire reached critical mass. According to our Stories in Motion (SIM) data, the top leisure activity for millennials is browsing social media (over reading a book or watching a movie on Netflix). So millennials, who make up the bulk of social media users, helped to drive chatter because the timing was right.

Right platform for the right audience: According to SIM data, millennials consume their news with a scan of their social feeds (more than 40% of males and more than 50% of females). So making this drink a social media darling – bright colors that pop in any post, limited-edition status that egged people to social-brag they’d tried one -- was a key strategy to driving shares by a highly influential audience – millennials.

Girls run the world (credit: Beyoncé): Its pink-and-purple unicorn theme, along with aligning to current social trends, hearkens back to the 80s cartoon and toy My Little Pony, adored by many a millennial woman (and which is now also experiencing a revival). At the same time, the millennial woman has the highest percentage of social media usage on a number of channels: According to SIM, over 90% of millennial women are on Facebook and 55% are on Instagram. So, this blend of nostalgia factor, plus high social media use, made the Unicorn Frappuccino destined for social media success.

As marketers, what can we make of this success? Combine one part creative inspiration, one part platform and audience data; blend for success.   


Insights by Katie Solan and Julia Kelly-Echeverio