The Unicorn Frappuccino completely revolutionised how Starbucks invents new drinks

The Cups of Kindness Collection: Violet Drink, Matcha Lemonade, Ombre Pink Drink, and Pink Drink. Starbucks

If you’ve been to Starbucks recently, you may have noticed that seasonal drinks are looking a little bit different this year. 

Gone are the neutral coffee tones. Instead, colour is reigning supreme at the chain — and the Unicorn Frappuccino is to blame.  

In April, the Unicorn Frappuccino was a runaway success at Starbucks. The drink, which changed colours and flavours, was only a limited-time offering, but its instant success left a huge impression. 

Soon after the Unicorn Frappuccino left the menu, Starbucks announced that a secret menu item aptly named the Pink Drink would be added to the chain’s official menu.

Then came a partnership with Lady Gaga, which resulted in more uber-colourful beverages called the “Cups of Kindness Collection.” Most recently, the chain rolled out new fruit-flavored Frappuccinos that had bright swirls of colour throughout.

It’s hard to ignore the almost blinding array of colours that have been added to the menu of a “coffee” chain since the success of the Unicorn Frappuccino. 

Starbucks’ ‘Colours of Summer’ Frappuccinos. Starbucks

While the Unicorn Frappuccino was on the menu for less than a week in April, the colour-changing beverage had an influence that outlasted its short-lived service. 

The Unicorn Frappuccino was perfectly crafted to catch Instagram-lovers’ fancy, resulting in customers posting roughly 180,000 Instagram photos of the drink in just one week, according to UBS research. It was an immediate pop culture phenomenon, with mentions on talk shows such as Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, and seemingly endless media coverage. 

It didn’t matter that not all of this press was positive, as many people trashed the Frappuccino as a treacly sugar bomb. The buzz likely paid off in actual sales.

UBS said that it expected the Unicorn Frappuccino and other limited-time cold drink offerings to boost Starbucks’ same-store sales for the quarter. In channel checks, UBS found that the average Starbucks saw more than 20 people coming in to buy the Unicorn Frappuccino each day it was available. 

So, it makes sense that Starbucks is looking to recapture the Instagram magic with new, colourful drinks.

While no single drink has had quite the influence on social media as the Unicorn Frappuccino, Instagrammers have certainly taken advantage of the fact that the drinks look good in photos.

The Pink Drink, for example, has dominated social media since last year, before it was even on the official menu. 

An uptick of pretty photos on Instagram means more intrigued social media users who will order the beverage just to satiate their curiousity — and to take a picture themselves. 

Frappuccinos and other aesthetically-pleasing drinks — both espresso-based and purely fruity — are crucial to Starbucks’ success. Last year, a misstep in the chain’s Frappuccino Happy Hour strategy resulted in slumping summer sales at the chain, as Starbucks failed to focus necessary advertising on Frappuccinos as the chain instead worked to highlight its new rewards program. 

However, an overreliance on Instagram-friendly beverages can threaten Starbucks’ brand as a purveyor of quality coffee

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