The famous pastel-colored, sugar-filled Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino has come and gone but not without leaving a major impression. Starbucks’ highly successful concoction caused a stir on social media and even ended with a lawsuit. The coffee chain debuted the colorful concoction on Instagram, which was met with an overwhelming amount of user-generated content soon after. Audiences shared over 150,000 posts of the drink – and that was just on Instagram.

So what is it that led this mythical drink to stir such an online buzz? Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino success comes down to more than just its bright pink and blue coloring. Here’s a breakdown of why the drink was so popular and what marketers across all industries can take away from the unicorn-craze.

1. Flash Marketing: Limited Products Become More Valuable

Understandably, consumers are more attracted to items that are available for a limited time. The ol’ “limited edition” angle adds more value and creates an urgency to buy. Simply put, goods with an expiration date become more attractive. When something is made less available, and demand outweighs supply, the balance is thwarted. Economists call this the Scarcity Principle.

The Unicorn Frappuccino was only available for a short week, selling out at almost every location where it was offered. However, Starbucks isn’t the first chain to take advantage of the Scarcity Principle. Take the holiday season for example. Many brands come out with limited edition holiday products that are only available once a year. It’s because of the exclusive element that items become a novelty. Point being, consumers will always flock to flash sales and limited-time only events.

4 Marketing Takeaways From The Mythical Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino

2. FOMO: Everyone Wants a Frappuccino, But Not Everyone Gets One

Following along with the Principle of Scarcity, consumers don’t like to feel that they’ve missed out, which is where the term “FOMO” comes into play. Though many may joke about it, the fear of missing out is quite real and affects many social media users.

Eventbrite reports that 69% of millennials suffer from a fear of being excluded. For marketers, where there is FOMO, there is an opportunity. Consumers want to feel included which is why creating events or sales with a limited life span is a great way to attract buyers.

Between brand loyalty and FOMO, there is something that made Starbucks aficionados desire the Unicorn Frappuccino and it certainly was not because of the deliciousness of the drink. Many consumers reported that the sparkly drink had an awful taste to it, and yet the Unicorn Frappuccino continued to sell like crazy. TV personality and world class chef, Anthony Bourdain, perfectly described the drink in a nutshell:

“Wow, that’s like four things I hate all in one sentence: Starbucks, unicorns, and the colors pink and purple. Also a Frappuccino! It’s the perfect nexus of awfulness. Just add pumpkin spice to that mix, and you can nuke the whole country.”

– Anthony Bourdain

This is also where user-generated content played such a big role in Starbucks’ success. Every post about the drink was like a stamp of approval, turning it into a kind of cultural experience – much like Pokemon Go last year. And because the best way to cure FOMO is not to miss out, thousands of people tried the awful sugary drink just so they could agree that it was awful too.

3. The Psychology of Color: First it’s Purple, Then it’s Pink

Had the Unicorn Frappuccino been a standard coffee brown or neutral beige color, would it have been as popular? Odds are, probably not.

The extreme colors played into its wild success. With over 150,000 #unicornfrappuccino hashtags, the purple and pink coloring catered to photogenic social media snaps. Not to mention, the drink reportedly changed colors and flavors throughout consumption, providing multiple Instagram-worthy moments.

When choosing campaign colors, it’s important to be mindful that the psychology of color can impact buyer choice. In the Impact of Color in Marketing, researchers found that up to 90% of quick judgments were made based on product coloring.

“Prudent use of colors can contribute not only to differentiating products from competitors but also to influencing moods and feelings – positively or negatively – and therefore, to attitude towards certain products.”


Image credit: The Logo Company

 4. Frequency Illusion: Unicorns here, there, everywhere…


The Frequency Illusion is a theory in psychology that explains why when you see something once, you see it everywhere. The average person spends roughly 116 minutes on social media each day. So there’s really no illusion here when you know just how many hours consumers are spending hours on social platforms scrolling through news feeds. Even though Starbucks created a multifaceted marketing campaign, Starbucks fans (and skeptical consumers) helped out a ton by adding their own content to the mix.

Tah Tah for Now, Unicorn

Though the unicorn drink has made a mostly (un)graceful exit, it left a giant impression on audiences. Starbucks plans to recreate this fervor by offering similar items in the future. As CEO, Kevin Johnson, claimed, “We will bring at least one entirely new drink into Happy Hour this year that is going to be as good as Unicorn or better.”

So what can we learn from 59 grams of sugar and some food coloring? The Starbucks Frappuccino can teach us a great deal about consumers and their habits, especially on social media. It wasn’t by chance that the colorful drink took off, but rather due to theories in economics, psychology, and good old-fashioned market research. We are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to consumerism. When items are scarce, they simply become more attractive.

Marketers can take advantage of these principles by creating exclusive campaigns with a limited life span, invoking a rush for consumers that will push them to engage. Another takeaway is that color makes all the difference. Being strategic with color palettes can actually boost the success of your campaigns. Lastly, during an age when social media is highly image-focused, it’s best to create products that are photogenic and will stand out. Consumers will happily try out and share products, especially when they look ‘pretty.’ So what are you waiting for? Get to work on that unicorn-worthy content.

Header Image credit: Starbucks