Starbucks Fresh Banana Chocolate “Happy Yellow Frappuccino” and Social Media Case Study

20140417-104142.jpgHappy April! The sun is shining, the days are warming up, and it’s time to start thinking happy summery thoughts as winter’s icy grip melts into lush and lovely sunshine (before the hot sledgehammer of true summer hits.) How better to embrace pre-emptive summer excitement than the classic tropical fruit, banana? Starbuck’s new Fresh Banana and Chocolate cream is just in time to take

full advantage of everyone’s end of winter restlessness!

It’s finally here! The Happy Yellow Frappuccino is finally in stores. But wait, didn’t the Creamy Vanilla with Lemony Swirl just get here a couple weeks ago? And the Sakura Frappuccino just before that? Yes, Starbucks seems to have really ramped up their production cycle in the past few months, with each drink lasting less than a month and selling out before its allotted time is even up. Filling in the gaps with the Coffee and Cream line (should I write up a review for that one? It’s rather self-explanatory…) they’ve managed to create quite an artificial scarcity, whipping the audience up and encouraging them to go out and grab this drink before it goes away.

Japan is incredibly adept at the seasonal food market, which is buoyed by the added pressures of artificial scarcity. After all, if something is seasonal then it inherently can’t last forever. While you may hope to catch it again next year, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever see a product more than once. Get it now, or forever hold your peace!

20140417-103643.jpgAnother way that Starbucks Japan has whipped up excitement for the Happy Yellow Frappuccino is with an aggressive social media campaign that has ranged across platforms and (literal) stages. Well-designed and thought out, the Banana drink has been visually arresting and strongly branded even before being tasted by a single customer.

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The firing shots came through email. Twitter and Facebook splashes followed. The true centerpiece however, came in the form of a Livestreamed Youtube Launch Party which took place on April 15th in Tokyo. I entered the lottery to attend, but sadly did not win one of the golden tickets to gain entry to this event. (By the way, if anyone from Starbucks corporate is reading this, I’d be happy to participate in, you know, anything :))

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An event hall in Ebisu was decorated with jungle leaves and bananas, and model Yu Yamada (she’s from Okinawa, to encourage that tropical feel) was trotted out in her high-fashion banana sarong. There was even a little fashion show, and while it may sound silly (the models had yellow eyebrows! Yu had a golden crown of banana leaves!) it actually looked pretty fun. And there were obviously trays and trays of fresh banana Frappuccinos being passed around at the event, so who wouldn’t want to join in?

I find it really interesting that not only did Starbucks have a launch party for the drink (do they do this in other countries?) but they livestreamed it on Youtube. While the number of viewers wasn’t huge, I think this could be a really interesting trend, especially as far as their social media footprint gets wider. (Again, if anyone from Starbucks corporate is reading, I’d love to participate in, you know, anything!)

Another way that the visual branding has been reinforced has been on Twitter and Instagram. The number of photos I’ve seen that all look strikingly similar is almost spooky. The best example is from the sampling that took place shortly before the drink was officially released. About every hour or so the blenders would whirl and a barista would come around with a tray of tiny Frappuccinos and, more importantly, a stack of colorful stickers.

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Pictures of these adorable little sips with their nicely designed & well-branded stickers popped up all over the internet, both informing others and giving the photo-taker bragging rights—look what I got! The photo practically composes itself, and is just begging to be posted on your social media platform of choice.

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But how about the drink itself? Well, first off each drink contains a whole fresh banana, which as far as I know is the first time fresh fruit has been included in a standard menu item. This is of course the reason for all the hullabaloo, and also justification for the big jump in price—up to 658 yen for a tall. Yes, that’s about 7 bucks, and yes, it only comes in tall. All of this, from the pricing to the single size to the media blitz with the gold crown on the beautiful model in a Tokyo event hall is carefully designed to scream “This is a luxury item!”

It seems to be working, as the local Starbucks was packed yesterday, with a line wrapping around the store as the barristas in their new yellow t-shirts kept the blenders buzzing. Most interesting was that the store had a distinct Saturday atmosphere, filled with gaggles of girls enjoying their drinks together, and of course taking pictures of their Frappuccinos to share online. I don’t usually see many groups of young women in the store on a Wednesday, but their presence really underlines the success of the social aspect of this campaign.

There are two flavors available, the Fresh Banana Chocolate Cream and the Fresh Banana Caramel Cream. Both drink like a meal, packing a wallop of cream and banana and brownie chunks. The brownie chunks hiding under the whipped cream are the true star of the drink for me, and the caramel blondie bits are especially delicious. A special wide straw is necessary because this business is chewy, but if I’m paying that much for a drink, I’m glad that basically includes a snack!

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The lovely Akya from the Starbucks Subreddit suggested adding extra caramel to the Caramel cream, and I’m glad I took her suggestion. There’s no coffee in these, so it’s purely a dessert experience, like with the Strawberry Cheesecake Frappuccino. (Shout out to the awesome Starbucks Subbredit! Not all subreddits are created equal, but the community there has been consistently great. I definitely recommend it!)

Overall I think the chocolate is the stronger of the two, and the ones I’ve tried have had slightly green banana tastes to them. I hope they let the bananas ripen a bit more, but I’m still much happier than I thought I would be when I first heard that banana was coming out. I was expecting artificial flavorings, and this definitely does not taste like a big cup of laffy taffy.

So, what do you think? Do you want a Happy Yellow Frappuccino? Is it overpriced, or worth it for the experience? Do you want to share one with your friends and post pictures on any and all social media platforms? Did you attend the Youtube livestream, or would you have if you’d known about it? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to tell your Starbucks lovin’, social media interested friends about this newest star in the Starbucks constellation!

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About superhappyawesome

Living in Japan!
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4 Responses to Starbucks Fresh Banana Chocolate “Happy Yellow Frappuccino” and Social Media Case Study

  1. Sandra says:

    Another delicious review! I would love a taste not sure about the brownie chunks though. I guess if I thought of it as a brownie sundae I could warm up to the idea. Thanks Alice!

    • Think of it like a lighter chocolate banana milkshake! Or like a brownie banana split! The chunks don’t get soggy or anything, so they provide nice texture to what is most definitely a dessert with a straw. Thanks for your lovely comment, Sandra! I always look forward to hearing from you ❤

  2. I really enjoyed both flavors, and I must say I was most impressed at the speed the barista was working at last night. She had Happy Yellow Frappuccino production down to a well oiled art. As far as seasonal productions go, it is very interesting how that has altered my own habits. Knowing that something I like will be gone in a week has definitely lead me to purchase things I may not have otherwise. This has been especially true at McDonald’s, but also at Starbucks and even drinks and chips at the convenience store. I am still sad that they have never brought back mozzarella and tomato potato chips.

  3. Haikugirl says:

    Mmm… looks good! I was in Starbucks here in the UK the other day and found myself so underwhelmed by the choice of frappuccinos. They didn’t have any special ones and for a moment I was surprised, then I remembered I was in England, not Japan. Can’t wait to be back in the country of seasonal flavours! 😀

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