For the Love of Frappuccinos: Why Consumers Consent to Addiction

by Alexa Spitz

Venti Java Chip Frappuccino (hold the chips) with almond milk, two shots of espresso, three pumps of sugar free vanilla syrup, light ice and no whip. Whether you’re a pretentious pre-teen or a coffee connoisseur, many people find themselves sipping on one of Starbucks’ bougie beverages at least once during their lifetime. Through the creation of fun flavors and post-worthy products, Starbucks has conquered the world with caffeine culture. That being said, society is not blind to the absurdities of its own habits. A day does not go by in which consumers do not rant about the obscene prices, workout inducing calorie counts, and inevitable caffeine dependency that accompanies Starbucks coffee. This undeniable negativity surrounding Starbucks’ products begs the question: Why have we not declared war on Frappuccinos?

Starbucks’ delicious flavors are captivating Generation Z. Sweet sensations such as mocha, strawberry, caramel, and vanilla tastefully mask the flavor of coffee blended into the syrups. These trendy, sugary, heart attacks provide the addictive effects of caffeine while still appealing to the less sophisticated palette of a key demographic: the youth. Rather than only targeting the adult population, Starbucks has ingrained the need for its products into the dopamine signaling pathways of young consumers. Unlike other age targeted fads such as Ring Pops and Capri Suns, the desire for Starbucks’ products is evolving rather than dissipating over time. For example, a child in elementary school starts with a kid safe, mother approved crème based Frappuccino. Rather than leaving Starbucks behind in the monkey bar days, the crème based Frappuccino evolves into a shot of espresso, a mocha, an iced latte, and maybe even a cold brew by the time the child is starting her second job. If the flavor sensations of Starbucks’ array of syrups is not satisfactory, the company also entices consumers with the universally pleasing scent of free wifi. Unfortunately, the Starbucks marketing team understands this “free” wifi is about as free as a free lunch. Students and professionals can flock to the comfortable work spaces for the wifi, but they leave with the seeds of caffeine addiction planted in their taste buds. In my life, I often find myself setting up camp at Starbucks with a grande iced vanilla latte, that I did not need or want, and my wifi starved laptop. Even without its tasty products, the Starbucks marketing team still manages to conquer a variety of consumers.

Generation Z, which includes anyone born after 1997 (Defining Generations),  is growing up in a world where Starbucks is coffee. Starbucks has even created its own coffee language. For example, “Frappuccino” is universally recognized as a blended beverage and I am not too proud to admit that I order a tall, grande, or venti beverage in place of small, medium, and large. Starbucks’ marketing strategies are impeccable and the company even receives obscene amounts of its publicity for free. Rather than pay to inconvenience the viewing pleasure of its potential customers, Starbucks relies on the visual appeal of its products to let teenage attention seeking tendencies take their course. The creation of postable products has won the loyalty of social media obsessed consumers around the world. Whether it’s an Instagram worthy study squad post or a quick snap of a barista’s spelling deficiency, the internet is drowning in Starbucks related posts. With an Instagram following of 17.4 million, Starbucks is popping into the feeds of potential customers worldwide. Market Development Specialist at Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Mich., Lacey Eckert, suggests that social media appeal is not only effective, but also enduring the evolution of popular culture. When asked about the use of vibrant colors in dairy products, such as Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino, Eckert stated, “While the wild colors may start to trend downward at some point, food photography has become a social media standby…The trend of taking and sharing pictures of our plates is here to stay” (Decker 51-54).  Due to the constant bombardment of visually appealing posts, consumers crave the clout that accompanies a Starbucks run. The sleek cups, creamy colors, and aesthetically pleasing study spaces lure Starbucks groupies of all ages to “do it for the gram.” Starbucks’ head of brand development, Claire Waugh, admits that Starbucks is continually revamping its brand to appeal to a variety of consumers. When asked about Starbucks’ Frappuccino brand she stated, “This is phase one of our plan to build love for the brand and keep growing it. The Frappuccino brand looks quite different to the parent Starbucks brand. It appeals to a different audience because it has such a different personality” (Food and Drink). While Starbucks may not have a diabolical plan to take over the world with its sugary concoctions, it is acting intentionally to ensure consumers want to be addicted. 

Caffeine culture aside, there is undeniable negativity surrounding Starbucks products. Most obviously, Starbucks has normalized obscene prices in exchange for a shot of their bougie bean juice. A grande sized Frappuccino costs the average consumer a whopping $4.45 (Fast Food Menu Prices) before tax. To put it into perspective, a cheeseburger Happy Meal from McDonald’s, which includes a cheeseburger, fries, and a drink, is only $2.79 (Fast Food Menu Prices). Starbucks is easily charging $1.66 more for a 16fl oz caffeinated smoothie than McDonald’s is charging for a full meal. In addition to Starbucks’ disturbingly effective prices, the negative repercussions of caffeine consumption is another deterrent that consumers are choosing to ignore. Regular caffeine consumption leads to a withdrawal inducing dependency. The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens acknowledges that this “addiction” induces a gamut of side effects including tiredness, headaches, and insomnia (Drug Abuse). The temporary high of Frappuccino consumption is knowingly followed by a long list of negative health effects. Among the aforementioned effects are the workout inducing calorie counts blended into the sugary beverages. A prime example of these deceptively high digits can be found under the nutrition facts of one of Starbucks’ most popular Frappuccinos, the Java Chip. A grande Java Chip Frappuccino hits consumers with a whopping 470 calories (Starbucks Frappuccino Menu) per grande beverage and minimal effort is made by the corporation to conceal the undesirable digits. Although it would be impossible to tell from the constant flow of foot traffic in and out of Starbucks’ storefronts, Frappuccino nutrition facts are readily available to consumers. In fact, they’re even advertised on the mobile menu. Starbucks ensures that consumers are well aware of the negative repercussions of their addictions. And yet, here I am discussing them over a Happy Hour Frappuccino. So, why don’t we fight it?

Technically speaking we could break our caffeine crutch with minimal repercussions, but why would we? Starbucks has brilliantly crafted a caffeine culture smoother than its blonde lattes. Whether it’s for the gram, the caffeine, or the free wifi, Starbucks attracts more customers than most businesses could lure in their wildest dreams. The demand for Starbucks’ products is so astounding that the quality of its beverages cannot be the only factor enticing consumers. The real masterminds behind this caffeine culture is Starbucks’ marketing team. They have made it so we want to be addicted. Genius? Malicious? Good business? No matter how one would choose to describe it, it’s effective.

Works Cited

Decker, Kimberly J. “Coloring dairy in an Instagram era.” Dairy Foods, Troy Vol. 118. Iss. 9. Sep.2017, p. 51-54, https://searchproquestcom.proxy.bc.edu/docview/2104072877rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo

Dimock, Michael, and Michael Dimock. “Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 17 Jan. 2019, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-zbegins/.

“FOOD AND DRINK: Frappuccino launch helps Starbucks extend reach.” Marketing Week, 28 Apr.2011, p. 5, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A264504626/ITOFu=mlin_m_bostcoll&sid=ITOF&xid=ef9a65b6. Accessed 31 Mar. 2019.

“Food, Drinks & Menu | Starbucks.” Starbucks Coffee Company, www.starbucks.com/menu.

“Is Caffeine Really Addictive?” NIDA for Teens, teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/caffeine-really-addictive.

“McDonalds Prices.” Fast Food Menu Prices, www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/mcdonalds-prices/.

“Starbucks Frappuccino® and Other Blended Drinks.” Starbucks Coffee Company, www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/frappuccino-blended-beverages.

“Starbucks Prices.” Fast Food Menu Prices, www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/starbucks-prices/.