Finding Your Marketing Unicorn, Without Pushing Operations to a Breaking Point
A Story of the Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino and Sunny Co Clothing’s Instagram Promo
Well, hopefully not (unless your goal was to get a hashtag trending about how hard your employees’ jobs are).
All press is good press might not be the case with the recent attempts companies have made to tap into Instagram’s widespread audience.
So today, I’m going to talk through what Sunny Co Clothing and Starbuck’s did in their recent marketing campaigns — the good and the absolutely terrible — and then we’ll talk through how you can find your marketing ✨unicorn✨🦄 (and hopefully not piss tens of thousands of people off).
Starbucks’ Instagram marketing campaign started before the Unicorn Frappuccino. I think this specific campaign was birthed from the rise of the “Pink Drink”. A few months back, people started ordering the Strawberry Acai with coconut milk to make a pastel pink drink.
Originally, this aggressively Instagram-able drink wasn’t available on the menu, it had to be asked for with specific instructions. After it started taking over everyone’s feeds, Starbucks decided to add it to their menu officially as the Pink Drink.
This created a near perfect formula for Starbucks:
1.) Aesthetically pleasing drink starts popping up on Instagram
2.) The drink is enveloped in a cloud of mystery, not existing officially on the menu makes it impossible for people “out of the know” to order
3.) Starbucks officially announces the drink on the menu
4.) Their audience is now able to go order it at any Starbucks, easily
5.) This audience is now larger than the original and is still sharing photos on Instagram and now Facebook & Twitter as well
6.) A crap ton of profit
The Pink Drink kind of fell in their laps with a few smart customers. They could have repeated it with the purple and blue drinks slowly starting to pop up, but that would feel gimmicky.
A Magical Opportunity
The unicorn trend Metro called “out of control” back in January, was the perfect intersection of opportunities — aggressively Instagram worthy (this is important because consumers are provided an incentive to market for the company), current trends, and something totally new.
A few weeks before the launch, photos of the mysterious frappuccino started circling with its magical name. Most people assumed like many other pretty drinks on Instagram it was straight off the secret menu.
When it was announced as legit, people could get “in” on a trend that was previously unattainable and build up their own social cred. Yet, it was still limited as it was only available for 5 days.
The Not-So-Magical Downsides
There was a slew of downsides to the Unicorn Frappuccino.
Second, it was very complicated to make. Frappuccinos in general are pains for baristas, but these have multiple flavors that need to be layered along with whipped cream and a special topping. That combined with an insane number of them being requested led to some very upset baristas. This wouldn’t be terrible if it hadn’t garnered as much online attention as the drink itself, putting Starbucks in a negative position from an employer perspective.
The Follow Up
Frappuccinos aren’t Starbucks’ main business, so it seemed a little silly that they were suddenly trying to garner all this attention around it and reach new audiences with something that seemed like such a tedious drink.
May 5–14, Starbucks is running their Frappuccino Happy Hour campaign (3–6pm customers can get any Frappuccino half-priced) and have been continuing to build on the platform they created for themselves, even if their unicorn was no longer available.
What We Can Learn
· Learn from happy accidents and try to repeat them if possible
· Build up hype online and use it as a jumping off point
· Encourage UGC and make sure there is a benefit for a consumer sharing (in this case the benefit was being a part of an exclusive group and the aesthetically pleasing quality of the drink)
· A follow up promotion run in association with a previous campaign can help draw out success
· Just because everyone is Instagram-ing a pretty drink, doesn’t mean it tastes any good.
Sunny Co Clothing
Sunny Co Clothing was started by two male University of Arizona seniors. They started selling college specific skirts, but have since transitioned into focusing on swimwear in an attempt to reach a broader audience. On their website, they say they will donate $1 to The Alzheimer’s Foundation for every purchase.
Partnered with Twazer App, on May 2nd, Sunny Co Clothing posted a photo of a woman poolside in their Angela swimsuit and said they would send a free suit (customers would have to cover shipping and handling) to anyone who reposted and tagged them in the photo within 24 hours. Just a few hours later they had to post an update saying they reserved the right to cap the promotion and by the end of the promotion, the post had garnered thousands of likes and reposts.
Worse Than Sand in Your Trousers
Instagram users’ feeds became full of the faceless model in the red swimsuit and many took to making fun of it with an onslaught of memes. The memes poked fun at the swimsuit- comparing it to tragic wrestling uniforms- and the people intending to redeem it- suggesting every would be wearing the same thing at the beach this summer. Definitely not the kind of attention a startup retailer was looking for.
It got worse.
When repost-ers went to redeem their free swimsuit, the promo code “sunny” would show a drop in price on the website, but the company would then charge their account for the full price of the swimsuit, not just the promised shipping and handling. As if an insane number of orders all at once wasn’t enough to deal with, the company is now a fish out of water trying to handle all of these incoming requests for refunds and it seems they’re only failing.
What We Can Learn
· Be prepared for any outcome — if a promotion goes well, you might have to be able to deliver to thousands of people, be ready for it
· Watch your ROI and make sure you aren’t putting yourself in a position to lose money
· Make sure your platform is functional
· Monitor your online mentions and social media messages to ensure you are helping your customers and not garnering a bad rep by not responding
Finding Your Own Marketing Unicorn
Both Sunny Co Clothing and Starbucks largely found success by using Instagram to find an opportunity and reach an audience. Instagram might not be where your audience is, but no matter who you are, your audience is probably on one social media platform, you just have to figure out which one that is.
Look at what your audience is already talking about and see how you can be a part of it. Unicorns were a huge trend for millennials, who Starbucks wanted buying their frappuccinos and swimsuits trending on Instagram were huge for college students (evident by the rise of Triangl and Hoaka Swimwear).
Incentivize users for marketing for you. Unicorn Frappuccinos looked pretty on newsfeeds and Sunny Co reposters were promised free swimsuits.
Market a lifestyle, not just a product. The Unicorn Frappuccino had an exclusivity surrounding it, with the mystery of the pastel drink and the short-lived access to it. Sunny Co Clothing sells a carefree, college, beachy lifestyle.
Don’t sacrifice operations to win at marketing. Your employees shouldn’t have to go on rants online begging people not to purchase the promoted product and your customers shouldn’t be unable to get help to resolve an issue where they were charged for something they shouldn’t have been.
Disclaimer: Leeward Business Advisors is in no way expressing negative opinions or promoting the companies discussed. LeewardBA is merely using the companies described to educate on marketing and social media best practices and make recommendations for other businesses.
About Leeward Business Advisors
Leeward Business Advisors is a Wisconsin-based corporation that provides business strategy planning, business improvement implementation, and full IT operational support. They offer world class Cloud Computing services, Cloud brokerage, Managed IT services, and a full US based Support Service Desk (called Quick Answers). Michael Polzin, CEO has 20+ years of enterprise business and technology experience gained while working at Allstate Insurance and Microsoft Corporation. Jason Klein, CTO has 15+ years delivering effective and efficient technology to Midwest companies.