starbucks holiday red cups
How Starbucks Has Remained the Star of Holiday Marketing
Thursday, November 10, 2016 | Carousel30

The holiday season has officially begun which means that consumers will be seeing an increased number of advertisements, making it more important than ever to distinguish your brand in more ways than one. Starbucks, a company that never fails to have a successful holiday marketing campaign, is known for rolling out their Instagram-worthy red cups every year during the beginning of November once the weather starts getting colder. Year after year, these cups have elicited childlike excitement from fans and has even caused some loyal customers to create a Countdown to Red Cups. The famous red cups, while paired with special holiday products and contests, have shown that Starbucks is a leader in holiday marketing.

Despite some controversy surrounding the cup design last year that went viral on social media, Starbucks had a record breaking holiday season. In quarter four of last year, Starbucks sold 1.9 billion dollars in gift cards and also reported a 9 percent increase in total sales. By taking a look at the history of Starbucks’ holiday campaigns from 1997 through last year in 2015, there are some lessons you can learn and implement into your own holiday marketing efforts to have a successful fourth quarter.

History of the Red Cups

In 1997, Starbucks began to rise in popularity in all corners of the United States and went on to expand internationally. It was at that time that Starbucks decided to introduce the first limited edition cup design in hopes of exciting customers about the holiday season. It wasn’t until years later that Starbucks introduced their signature holiday drink line to go along with their cups. Even before the drink line was created, the cups served as a way to specialize their product for the season, which made their customers feel a sense of urgency to get in the door and purchase a drink.

The Special Edition Marketing Strategy

The main reason the red cups from Starbucks have become famous is because of the “limited time only” aspect of them. The creation of the holiday drink line in 2003 only further developed this trend as people flocked to Starbucks to get this special edition cup, now with a special edition drink inside. People are drawn to limited edition items and Starbucks has used this important marketing lesson to draw in customers.

Embracing Seasonal Trends

Despite the fact that consumers spend the most money during the final quarter of the year, they still try to stick to their budgets as much as possible. However, around the holidays when people are spending huge sums of money, they also tend to embrace any extra holiday treats they can get, especially if they are free. In pairing an item that people spend money on (in this case coffee) with an added-value product (holiday cups), customers from all financial standpoints are more inclined to see the value in indulging more than they would otherwise.

How Starbucks’ approach to becoming synonymous with the holidays created a successful campaign

One key to running a successful holiday marketing campaign is to make the public think they can’t possibly celebrate a holiday without your product or service. Every holiday has certain activities or feelings that people link to them. For example, when you think of Valentine’s Day, you think chocolate and roses, and companies with those products have taken advantage of that. Starbucks has used this principle by rolling out special products and encouraging people to share them on social media in hopes of making people feel like they can’t possibly run through the mall shopping for gifts or venture into the cold to go ice skating without a seasonal drink in hand. Marketers can implement the idea of becoming synonymous with the holidays into their own holiday campaigns by embracing the strategies outlined below:  

Tell a Story

Starbucks tapped into the power of a strong narrative by creating a social media campaign with the hashtag #redcups last year. On Twitter and Instagram, users were encouraged to share photos of their holiday drinks in the signature red cups. This campaign did two things: first it generated a buzz on social media and second, it allowed people to feel a connection to the brand which resulted in the sharing of their stories during the holidays. People shared photos of their cups in front of Christmas lights, trees, and with family and friends which further advanced the idea that Starbucks drinks are an integral part of the holiday season. Over the years, as Starbucks holiday cups have moved from being overly Christmas themed to more inclusive of all holiday season themes, Starbucks has further improved their campaign by appealing to even more people.

Evoke a Feeling

One tried and true way to have a successful holiday marketing campaign is to use a feeling that surrounds the holidays, like family or tradition, to your advantage. Starbucks does this by rolling out holiday flavors that bring up a memory for customers in order to become synonymous with the holidays. For example, Starbucks’ peppermint mocha latte may remind customers of hot chocolate they drank as a kid or the gingerbread latte may bring them back to Grandma’s kitchen around Christmas time.

Crisis Management Lessons from Starbucks’ ‘Red Cup Gate’

For years since the red cups first marked the beginning of the holiday season, the cups have been adorned with reindeer, snowflakes and Christmas tree lights―all which are traditionally depicted on Christmas cards and decorations. In 2013 the cups began to shift to a more “holiday neutral” design with large dark red ornaments and in 2014, large abstract pine trees and stars. But, 2015 was the year that some customers called out the company for engaging in a “war on Christmas” when Starbucks debuted a cup with a minimalist ombre design.

This controversy—which many deemed the ‘Red Cup Gate’—on social media may seem small, but it caused a huge outcry on social media, which is one of the company’s biggest platforms for marketing. The huge amount of public attention forced Starbucks to issue a statement regarding the cups on their blog. To the average person, it may seem like all of this controversy put Starbucks on the naughty list but the company still had a successful season. Here are some crisis management tips you can learn from Starbucks’‘Red Cup Gate’:

All PR is good PR

As soon as the holiday cups were served at the first few Starbucks locations, people took to social media to express their opinions. While many people had negative things to say on social media, Starbucks still gained great media placement from the scandal which is especially important during the holiday season. The story was covered by news publications ranging from the New York Times to Buzzfeed, who wrote stories about the controversy.

Power of Social Media

Additionally, because customers took to social media to express their concern or approval, Starbucks experienced a huge spike in their social media engagement rates. People used social media to complain about the cups but also to complain about the controversy itself by using #itsjustacup. For the first 48 hours the cups were released, a photo was shared on Instagram every 14 seconds, according to Starbucks. Combine that with the traffic later enlisted by the #redcupcontest on Instagram and the special Starbucks emoji when you use #redcup on Twitter, and Starbucks had themselves a social media win.

Category - Social Media Marketing