In-Scope: Social lessons from the Unicorn Frappuccino


Danielle Le Toullec is a Senior Social Manager within OMD Word Sydney, navigating the world of social influence and emerging communications platforms.


The colourful and playful unicorn trend has been popping up on social media for a little while now with no signs of slowing down. From rainbow hair and beauty to unicorn toast and drinks, people can’t seem to get enough.


Starbucks is the most recent brand to capitalise on the trend with the launch of their limited-edition, Unicorn Frappuccino, which was only available for 5 days last month (April 19th – 23rd). The campaign successfully garnered public attention and many stores sold out of the product in record time. So, what can we learn about social marketing from a cream topped unicorn?



1. Keep your ear to the ground with social listening

As a social marketer in a media agency, my advice to clients is to always let the data do the talking. We’ve all heard the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion”. Brands need to ensure that they are listening as much, if not more than they are talking. The way to do this is to use social listening to find out what your community are already talking about and create a relevant way for your brand to be involved. Case in point, if you search “unicorn” on instagram, 4,868,288 posts await you – this coupled with Starbucks’ track record of limited edition drinks and being quick to market, made it a safer opportunity to explore.

The decision to tap into this trend has ultimately paid off for Starbucks – the launch post received 617,500 Likes and 35,176 comments—more than double the engagement of Starbucks’ average post and easily their most engaged post this year to date. Moreover, they have created an opportunity to surprise and delight their customers, driving footfall and sales at the same time.

2. Create for (Insta)Gram-ability

This isn’t the first time a brand has created a product inspired by and for social. Special mention goes to sushi doughnuts, cronuts, ramen burgers and rolled icecream – the honour roll of made-for-instagram food.

As a Starbucks spokesperson told The Guardian, “The look of the beverage was an important part of its creation, our inspiration came from the fun, spirited and colourful unicorn-themed food and drinks that have been trending in social media.” Although ironically, with reviews like “it tastes like sour birthday cake and shame” and TV host Stephen Colbert saying “it tastes like I French-kissed Tinker Bell” – the taste of the actual product was far less important than the (Insta)gram-ability of it.. Which leads me to my next point.

3. Exclusivity is your friend

Starbucks have historically been very adept at using FOMO to their advantage. Their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte during Autumn is one of their most popular products as is their Ginger Bread House Christmas edition. They took this to the next level with the Unicorn Frappuccino by making it available for 5 days only. This time limit meant that it was tagged almost 90,000 more times! 

Source: Simply Measured

 For those people that couldn’t get their hands on the beverage due to it being sold out or not available in their locations, Starbucks was able to drive new followers by encouraging them to follow their social channels so they didn’t miss out on future limited-editions. And the proof is in the pudding… or Frappuccino in this case! Simply Measured reports that during the last two days the Unicorn Frappuccino was available, Starbucks’ main Instagram account increased by 33,283 followers.

4. Make sure your brand custodians are on side

The final lesson courtesy of the cream topped unicorn, is before you launch anything, make sure that your employees are fully briefed and on board. Whilst much of the earned media around this campaign was focused on the success of its social strategy, or sugar content and taste, there was also a fair amount of press covering the negative reactions staff were posting to social in response to making the complicated drink. Starbucks have released a statement saying that they would be reaching out to key staff to talk about their experiences to make it better for any future releases – but let’s face it… having a product that is too popular, is not the worse problem for a company to have!

So, whilst some are interpreting the unicorn trend as a coping mechanism for millennials who don’t want to adult yet, Starbucks has effectively turned it into a tactical campaign, which has driven commercial and marketing success for the brand. It has also delivered important learnings which will inform their next campaign.

Beyond rainbows, glitter, vanity social metrics, the overall message of this unicorn is the importance of investing in an always on social approach, so that your team is able to keep an eye on what is trending and identify relevant opportunities such as these which will ensure that your brand stays top of mind.

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