Promoting “Unicorn” Products

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Promoting “Unicorn” Products

Last week I got a unique email from Starbucks that introduced one of their new fall favorites. Was it a new version of the revered pumpkin spice latte? Something warm and characteristics of subtle change in season? Well, not exactly. Starbucks introduced their new “Witches Brew” Frappuccino (first photo), reminiscent of the “Unicorn” Frappuccino (second photo) that the company released back in April of this year.

Starbucks is known for its seasonal products: every time the weather changes, they start promoting a new fan favorite. But you must admit, products like the ones above are obscure and very different from the types of products Starbucks usually promotes. So why do it?

Most restaurant brands have a similar struggle: keeping their content fresh and unique so that their brand can be distinctive amongst their competitors. Starbucks uses short term product promotions like these to boost visibility. Because these drinks are so out of the ordinary and visibly unique, they generate attention on social media that gets people talking. And the strategy seems to work!

The week that Starbucks released the limited-time Unicorn Frappuccino, over 155,000 Instagram posts were generated of fans tapping into the craze of this new drink. The brand smartly capitalized on the trend of sharing food online, and they gave consumers a product to do just that. The more photos that went up, the more that consumers’ fear of missing out (FOMO) drove them to their local Starbucks so they could post their own picture of the drink before it left stores. Did the drink taste good? No, what I tried was terrible; many agree. Yet the product still sold (sales jumped 4% in April) simply because of its visibility on social media.

Will the “Witches Brew” Frappuccino have the same effect? I believe that it will, but not to the same degree. The craze of the “Unicorn” Frappuccino is probably still too memorable for some to buy back in; but consumers’ desire to post a selfie with this drink as one of their Halloween pics will still make the product noticed on social media.  I also believe that Starbucks will continue to hold limited time product promotions in order to sustain the unexpected and maintain a presence that is both fresh and unique.

I believe that we will start to see this phenomenon take off across the industry. As content continues to become more and more saturated, companies will use their products to make their brands stand out, with the goal of producing consumer-generated feedback. But in order for that to happen, the products being promoted must be as unique as a “unicorn.”


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SPARKsouthSeptember 28, 2018
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