Starbucks tried, and failed, to make this the next Unicorn Frappuccino

Starbucks Corp.’s most recent limited-time beverage, the Crystal Ball Frappuccino, was a social media bust, according to Stifel analysts, with experts making a case that the drink missed the mark on Instagram-readiness.

The Crystal Ball Frappuccino, which was offered in the U.S., Canada and Mexico from March 22 through March 26, was crème-based, made with peach flavor and turquoise sparkles.

The colorful beverage drove approximately an incremental 0.4% of the social-media mentions for the quarter, compared with an incremental 6.5% of social-media mentions for the Unicorn Frappuccino during the third quarter of 2017.

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“Inclement weather in several U.S. cities likely contributed to some of the softness, but limited-time-offer frappuccinos appear to be losing some of their appeal as well,” Stifel analysts led by Chris O’Cull wrote in a note. “The company has struggled to re-create the success of the Unicorn Frappuccino launched in April 2017.”

While the Unicorn Frappuccino may have been a social-media star, it left a bad taste in the mouths of many customers (and baristas).

Even though the Crystal Ball Frappuccino got better marks for taste, it may not have been designed for a closeup that could be shared on social media.

“Because the Unicorn frap did not taste as great as it looked, consumers may have been hesitant to purchase the Crystal Ball Frappuccino and share their experience on social media,” said Kelly Jo Sands, executive vice president of marketing technology and data services at Ansira, a marketing agency.

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“Also, if the Crystal Ball Frappuccino resembled an actual crystal a little more, consumers would have been more inclined to try to drink and share on social, as it is a great image for social content,” she said.

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  announced Tuesday morning that it is revamping its happy hour to go beyond the Frappuccino, which Stifel analysts support. The new happy-hour offering starts Thursday with half off any espresso drink from 3 p.m. to closing time. Customers will also be alerted to events and offers through the mobile app or via email.

Starbucks announced Tuesday that it will begin collecting an email address from customers using the company’s in-store wifi.

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“The chilly reception of the Crystal Ball demonstrates the need for the company to revamp the Frappuccino happy-hour promotion,” Stifel wrote. The company’s holiday promotions — the Zombie Frappuccino at Halloween and the Christmas Tree Frappuccino — were “relatively successful given the challenges of selling a cold drink during the cooler months.” Those beverages achieved incremental 0.9% and 0.6% of social-media mentions, respectively.

Even though there was less chatter about the latest Frappuccino, the talk was positive.

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“Of the four major Frappuccino limited-time offers during the past year, the Crystal Ball has received the most favorable social sentiment (78% net positive), whereas the Unicorn received the lowest net sentiment score (20% positive),” Stifel wrote.

Frappuccinos aren’t falling out of favor, according to Lizzy Freier, managing editor of menu analysis at Technomic, a data and analytics provider for the food service industry.

‘[P]erhaps because Starbucks already did a color-changing beverage this year and has been promoting these types of beverages often, this one didn’t catch as well,” she said.

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According to a UBS note published March 15, Starbucks’ brand equity is “strong.” UBS rates Starbucks shares buy with a $66 price target.

“Starbucks appears positioned to maintain coffee category outperformance with new details on sales initiatives enabling a return to at least the low end of the 3% to 5% same-store sales target,” the note said.

But the days when Frappuccinos could set off a social-media feeding frenzy might be over.

“The Crystal Ball limited-time offer is not lapping a uniquely compelling offer, so it will likely not be a factor (good or bad) for fiscal second quarter,” Stifel wrote. “However, we do believe softer consumer responses to these ‘spark’ promotions suggests the company could struggle to lap the tough April comparison, unless significant changes are made during the promotional window.”

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Stifel rates Starbucks shares hold with a $58 price target.

Starbucks shares are down nearly 1% for the past year while the S&P 500 index
  is up 11.8% for the period.

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