Consumers love exclusivity. Even when it is apparent that the exclusivity is feigned, they flock to brand experiences that are “hidden” from other consumer segments. This is especially true in the food and beverage industry, where diners seek out off-menu options at popular traditional restaurants, QSRs, and coffee shops. Consider In-N-Out Burger, a west coast QSR highly-regarded by locals, but downright fawned-over by tourists. Visitors to this establishment love ordering from the hidden menu (specifically, the “animal style” french fries), despite the fact that the brand posts their “not-so-hidden” menu directly on its website!
While In-N-Out Burger is a regional brand with less adoption nationwide, massive traditional brands can also realize success through similar strategies. Recently, Starbucks has gained notoriety for its off the menu item affectionately known as “pink drink,” made with acai tea and coconut milk. The product has blown up on Instagram, with 14,134 posts tagged #pinkdrink between May 10 and June 26, as well as 1.1 million likes over the same timeframe. Shortly after, #purpledrink, #greendrink, #orangedrink, and #bluedrink varieties began popping up on the app.
We’ve written previously about how restaurants have had to change their in-house experience to accommodate changing consumer behavior, as modern consumers document their experiences on platforms like Instagram. But for QSRs, where the product is often taken out of the establishment, creating visual experiences has much more to do with the product itself. Earlier this year, Sonic released a completely square “Creamery Shake” designed specifically for Instagram. The shakes were launched ahead of Coachella, and consumers could have them delivered directly at the festival, to promote experiential sharing on the social network. It’s unclear if Starbucks created this secret product with social sharing in mind (though it’s always a desire of course), but in my estimation there are four reasons that it has achieved such viral success:
- Feigned Secrecy: As we’ve already discussed, people like to believe they are “in the know.” Especially at such an iconic brand as Starbucks, to know something off the menu that millions of consumers pass by every day brings an added layer of personal achievement.
- Simple, Organic Hashtag: #PinkDrink is exceedingly simple, and seems to be derived from users themselves, not forced on the public by the brand. In the absence of a name, given the off-the-menu status, the hashtag maintains an even more powerful viral potential.
- Healthy Recipe: Certainly, the ingredients of the product are less important than the first two characteristics, but they still play a part in its virality, particularly with the more health-conscious, type A persona that generally cho0ses to consume Starbucks’ products. Coconut milk and acai tea just sounds healthy. Sharing that drink makes the consumer appear to be health conscious and fun, a great combination.
- Visual Appeal: Finally, the unique pink color and overall visual appeal of the drink helps induce the consumer to share the product. If the color was a dark, murky brown, people would be less likely to want to feature it on their individual Instagram feeds. If we take a more scientific approach, recent research by Georgia Tech found that the color pink, along with red and purple, actually promotes sharing on social networks.
Starbucks is a venerable brand on social media, with too many success stories to count. But it will be interesting to see how it continues to compete on Instagram, where consumers expect dynamic visual experiences. This is a tasty step in the right direction.