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How to Start a Social Media Trend: Do You Have What it Takes to Create the Next Unicorn Frappuccino?

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Unicorn cupcakes for a party

By Melanie Yunk | July 23, 2017

Remember the Unicorn Frappuccino craze that seemed to take over the world (or, at least the internet) a few months ago? The social media trend that had the masses clamoring for the sugar-laden and mildly nauseating neon drink? Maybe you even tried one? Despite the crazy appearance of the drink, the marketing work behind it was nothing short of pure genius.

Wait, you didn’t think it was all on accident, did you? While Starbucks may not have anticipated how great a social media trend it would create with the drink, they certainly intended to shake things up and get noticed. And, they did.

First, let’s consider the enormity of the Unicorn Frappuccino with some basic metrics. According to Simply Measured,

“10% of Starbucks’ Instagram engagement for the year can be attributed to the five days this drink was available.”

Not only that, but Simply Measured also reports that

“from April 19 to April 23 (the days that the Unicorn Frappuccino was available for purchase), 90,000 pictures were posted on Instagram using the hashtag #unicornfrappuccino. Only two of these photos were organically posted by Starbucks.”

Wow. Staggering statistics, no?

What was the recipe for this incredible success? We attribute this—and any—social media trend to at least four key elements:

  1. Visual: Essential to viral marketing is user-generated content. User-generated content stems from something typically visually compelling and irresistible; something people want to engage with, comment on, be part of and share. Think funny memes, cute puppies, crazy food items, outlandish cars and the like. A regular picture of a tall dark roast in a white cup won’t make the cut. But, a neon-colored, sprinkle-bedecked, whipped-cream-laden, funny-named drink? Yes! Get the picture?
  2. Relevance: Outdated, obscure and irrelevant ideas rarely take flight. To create an internet sensation, you need to be ahead of the curve, but still pertinent. In the case of Starbucks, they capitalized on the unicorn trend that already had some wings. Then, they applied that trend to their brand by creating a drink named after, and fashioned after, the trend. Finally, the drink choice—the Frappuccino—resonates with a target demographic most likely to engage with social media and create user-generated content. Somehow, we just don’t think a Neil Diamond-themed espresso would catch fire in quite the same way. For so many reasons!
  3. Scarcity: Supply and demand remain one of the most powerful concepts in our world, and it certainly applies to creating social media trends. It’s hard to motivate people to get excited by something in abundant supply. However, when you add time-bounds to an offer, you create urgency and demand. People want to get it while it is still available, so FOMO (fear of missing out) also works here.
  4. Luck: What can we say, sometimes you just have to get a little lucky. Plan all you want, analyze the best days and times to run a program and put your best and brightest on the job. But, at a certain point, you just can’t control all the variables. This is where luck comes in. And you just have to hope it’s on your side!

There you have it. The four key ingredients to create the next social media trend. Will your creation be as popular as the sugary drink of the spring? Maybe not. But, without these four ingredients, you certainly won’t get very far.

Anything else you’d like to add? We can’t wait to hear! And, we can’t wait to jump on the bandwagon of, tweet, share and regram your version of the next social media trend!

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