I was rather confused and piqued when my Instagram feed this week continued to be filled with a happily colorful new drink from Starbucks, the Unicorn Frappuccino. I spotted the drink first when working at my local Starbucks. But as I go in for black coffee and wifi I didn’t pay much attention beyond noting how pleasant the colors were and how little coffee was in it.
Then my Instagram exploded, and I thought: is this drink really that amazing?
I still haven’t tried it because I am not trying to overload my body with sugar anymore. If I seem grumpy, you’ll understand why.
Anyway, I figured out that people from all walks of life in my social media circles did not suddenly agree wholeheartedly on the quality of a new, trend-following beverage; the secret behind the explosion of pink and purple swirls is that Starbucks is (reportedly) only selling them for five days. They know what all savvy businessmen have known since the invention of the first wheel: there is money to be made in exclusivity.
The Unicorn Frappucino rides on the heels (or horseshoes) of unicorn and rainbow trends that have been swirling through our lives, on the fringes perhaps but definitely present, for about a year. Even the little vegan cheese shop I work for a couple times a week is offering free sandwiches to anyone who comes in wearing a unicorn horn or other regalia.
It’s unifying – this unicorn thing.
It’s the type of trend to consider and the type of business plan to study for almost any business. It’s something people can fill their social media with, which is a significant boost for any brand in this digital day and age.
According to The NY Times, the Unicorn trend was started by accident (as are the greatest of inventions). They further went on to report that it began by one Adeline Waugh who started using a natural beetroot dye in her food pictures to add a pop of color. Her followers called her process “unicorn-esque,” possibly channeling the best My Little Pony character hands down, Rainbow Dash. Of course, it took no time for Ms. Waugh’s health conscious visual creation to be desecrated by unnatural dyes and sugar substitutes like marshmallows.
Then Starbucks latched onto the concept, and it’s the biggest “coffee” trend this week.
One of the things making their product stand out is the magic involved. The Frappuccino starts out blue and purple and reportedly turns pink when you stir it. And speaking of stirs, one Starbucks barista created a bit of one when he took to Twitter railing against the beverage, saying it was a stressful one for baristas to make.
Too bad the magic can’t extend to brewing the beverage altogether so the poor lad can catch a break.
The barista later clarified that it was mostly stressful because everyone and their hipster neighbor were ordering the drink all at once. There is a Reddit page tagged “Save a Barista, Order an Americano” which is funny because Americans aren’t even the easiest people to make a beverage for. Truly, isn’t this all about magic and fairy dust?
Reportedly Starbucks reached out to ask how to make the barista experience better, which is top notch management. When I first read that story, I worried the barista in question would be fired. Realizing that expressing stress is an opportunity for improvement instead of having a no tolerance policy for company criticism is an excellent way to garner respect, happy employees and causally, happy customers.
The unicorn trend has reached the mainstream with Starbucks. It’s been helped along by Pinterest, and specialty shops – making everything from bagels to rainbow layer cakes. These shops will flaunt their products with more sprinkles than you can count. That’s funny because if you can count the number of sprinkles on something, you’re clearly doing sprinkles wrong.
Finally, some credit should go to the beauty gurus of YouTube with sometimes mind-blowing (sometimes slightly disturbing) unicorn makeup tutorials. Here’s a perfect example of how the internet is coming to influence businesses more and more, even if those sales aren’t based online. I never would have given the drink a second though if half of the people I follow online hadn’t posted it. It is aesthetically pleasing, but as I said, I wasn’t interested in killing my sugar fast for aesthetics.
Honestly, the reviews as far as flavor have been mixed but Starbucks has definitely garnered massive attention, and I would bet they’ve sold more drinks because of the instagrammability of the drink. The internet effect is clearly circular and undoubtedly powerful. It’s important to keep it in mind no matter what your business. If your products are instagrammable, it can have a major effect on your brand. That effect can be positive or negative. No company or brand exists within the vacuum of a single community anymore, which can prove problematic if something goes wrong and stellar if something goes right!
More and more you’re going to have to consider the impact of the internet when building your business ethics. It can be a vital part of advertising branding and be connecting with customers, investors, critics and more. It can be detrimental if you aren’t on your game. And it can be the source of inspiration if you know where to look!
What’s next? Centaurs don’t evoke as much sparkle and color, but something frankensteining two foods together could fit the bill. Or do you think we’ll move away from fantasy creatures once the unicorn thing plays out? How do our business leaders and consumers feel about trends like these?