September 30, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

“As rare as a unicorn”: PR takeaways from Starbucks’ limited release frappuccino

“As rare as a unicorn”: PR takeaways from Starbucks’ limited release frappuccino


Unless you’ve avoided social media and news sites in the last week or two, you’ve definitely heard about Starbuck’s Unicorn Frappuccino. The drink, which was only available from April 19th through the 23rd, became a massive hit in stores and across the internet.

The success of this drink provides useful lessons for PR professionals and communicators looking to design well-received campaigns and launches.


On April 19, Starbucks tweeted, “As rare as… a unicorn. The color-changing, flavor-changing #UnicornFrappuccino—here for a limited time at participating stores,” accompanied by a sparkling gif of a drink with hues of pink, purple, and blue. The post was retweeted nearly 9,000 times and liked 22,000 times.

In the wake of its success, there have been reports of new specialty drinks appearing in certain stores. In particular, customers have posted pictures of Dragon, Mermaid, and Narwhal Frappuccinos, which were the creations of baristas at individual stores.

Additionally, Starbucks announced that consumers should expect more themed drinks from their corporate team in the coming months. “We will bring at least one new entirely new drink into Happy Hour this year that is going to be as good as Unicorn or better,” CEO Kevin Johnson said in an earnings conference call.

What can communicators learn from this product release?

 Capitalize on trends

 April 9th, about a week before Starbucks premiered their new drink, was National Unicorn Day. Throughout the day, #NationalUnicornDay trended on Twitter, generating interest in the concept of unicorns. Although it’s not confirmed that the drink’s release date had any connection to this national awareness day, the publicity generated by the hashtag likely bolstered the popularity of Starbucks’ beverage.

In other PR campaigns, professionals may choose to implement trending or popular hashtags to help messages reach a larger audience with a targeted interest in the subject. Additionally, using media monitoring tools to track and analyze emerging and trending topics can help shape how to position a launch to gain the most exposure possible.

Make it exclusive (and limited)

Part of the appeal of this drink was undoubtedly the limited-time feature. Limited releases create a sense of urgency. The frenzy to buy a drink caused many stores to run out of the ingredients for the frapp even before the limited release period ended, indicating the success of this beverage.

The limited release created a feeling of exclusivity for consumers who were able to buy a drink before stores ran out of ingredients. PR campaigns can benefit from this type of exclusivity. Whether practitioners offer a limited discount or access to information about their product or campaign before its official launch, giving customers privileged access generates enhanced interest.

Engage to build more awareness and relationships

A quick perusal through Starbucks’ Twitter is enough to prove how thoroughly and regularly they engage with their audience on social. In addition to retweeting posts that mention their brand favorably, they also respond to high number of replies on their own posts. These responses include quips about their products, answers about ingredients or availability, and apologies or assistance to customer complaints.

In the case of the Unicorn Frapp, the plethora of responses had the potential to capitalize on the interest from their new product and establish relationships with people who were not previously Starbucks customers. Additionally, Starbucks had the opportunity to engage with existing consumers, allowing the company to solidify the relationship and create greater brand favorability.

As the mania from Starbucks’ latest drink and its spin-offs subsides, it’s useful to study the successful PR decisions made by Starbucks. Next time you’re getting ready to launch a campaign or product, take a page out of Starbucks’ book and capitalize on trends, make it exclusive, and build awareness and relationships.

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About The Author'

Jordan Gosselin recently began her career in marketing and communication with CARMA. Her experience includes social and digital work, creative content production, and marketing operations.

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