In late July, Starbucks turned its signature green and white colours into a sea of black and pink for "Blinks" (fans of Black Pink). The brand launched a new collaboration with the phenomenal K-pop girl group Blackpink in nine markets across the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Starbucks x Blackpink collection features a line-up of 11 types of drinkware and six lifestyle accessories, with contrasting pink and black colours to echo the vibe of the fan-crazed girl group’s latest album: Born Pink.
This is not the first partnership between Starbucks and Blackpink, but it is their first-ever region-wide collaboration. The popular coffee brand has a history of partnering with K-pop groups, including boy band BTS, and first tested the waters with Blackpink in 2021, when they launched a special collection for the Thailand market. It sold out within minutes.
Even before the launch, Starbucks was clear about the power and magic of Blackpink. Emmy Kan, senior vice president and president for Starbucks Asia Pacific, points out, “Blackpink is synonymous with an authenticity that is bold and confident, making them an inspiring force that transcends geographies and cultures."
And magic they have created.
The latest collaboration has not only sold out, but done so in sky-rocketing numbers. Within three hours of hitting online shelves, the entire inventory for Asia was gone, leading the Starbucks virtual stores to to crash temporarily. Fans were also recorded crowding the entrances of several physical outlets across Asia, barraging their way in as soon as doors opened, only to sweep stock into their baskets and run for the cash register.
Lisa Leung, Starbucks' Asia-Pacific director for partnerships, confirmed the overwhelming response from customers.
“Most of the markets sold 95% of the merchandise within two to three hours, and some within a few minutes on e-commerce sites. Beverage sales in the first couple of days were double of what we typically achieve during peak season for some markets,” shared Leung.
The hysteria comes as no surprise to those familiar with K-pop's appeal in the region and worldwide. Blackpink has quickly become synonymous with brand success, with Oreo becoming a Top Advertiser in Thailand in January this year (as per the YouGov Brand Index) as a result of their collaboration with the pop group.
The ‘Turn Up Your Summer’ campaign developed by the brand’s creative agency TBWA for innovative design and social media engagement concluded with "an exciting” result.
“To give you a sense of fans’ excitement, [the] engagement rate is 50-150% higher compared to our seasonal campaigns, and video engagement rates on social media are two to four times higher compared to our average campaign,” said Leung.
Released on 25 July, Starbucks began promoting the collaboration on Hong Kong's official Instagram account in mid-July. Unlike other such instances, to attract more members for its loyalty programme, Starbucks × Blackpink's special drinks and merchandise also opened to members three days before the official launch date from 22 to 24 July.
Leung explained the special strategy adopted by the brand.
“To further ignite anticipation, we also tapped our renowned Starbucks Rewards program, giving our members across the region exclusive perks, including early access to Blackpink-inspired Frappuccino and the merchandise through mobile order and pay”.
However, where there is demand, there are also perils of supply. The collaboration series is only sold in Hong Kong and Taiwan in Greater China, leading Blinks to come to Hong Kong and queue for cups, tumblers or mugs during the weekend.
For fans who missed out based on geographic or stock concerns, the only reprieve was on second-hand markets, with some mainland Chinese social media channels, including Xiaohongshu (Red), becoming flooded with merchandise being sold at rapidly inflating rates as eager buyers tried their luck.
Quickly, the discourse turned negative. In a deinfluencing post and poll initiated conducted on Red titled “Is this leek-cutting phenomenon for real?”, about 87% of over 2700 voters said “Yes, indeed”, and 13% voted “You are just too sensitive”, in response being asked about the sale of merchandise on the secondary market. In Chinese colloquial language, “cutting the leek” means “milking the cow or strip-mining customers": A reference to the raised rates.
Which is why brand collaborations that rely on exclusivity and scarcity as their core strategic driver are such a double-edged sword. On one side, there is a guarantee that your product will sell out and create a buzz whilst doing so. But on the other side, such smash-hit influencer marketing campaigns do come with a trap. The more the demand, and the less the supply, the greater the imperative on the brand to ensure there's enough to go around—or at least, enough not to cause a backlash.
In this case, the campaign is evidence of this rhetoric. Yes, it created demand, but it also bred friction, with one Blink sharing on social media, “I’m starting to resent Starbucks after the event" in response to the limited numbers of stock and inaccessibility to product, and the 'first-come-first-serve' attitude of Starbucks, leading to endless stock flooding the second-hand market.
There's no denying this campaign has been a success, but the question remains: Has it succeeded at the benefit or the peril of the Starbucks customer?