Research Proposal

It is sparkling, magical, contains bright colours and everything that is soft and fluffy. Yes, you are reading this correct we are talking about a Unicorn and everything related to this magical and mythical creature. But where does this magical creature come from and why are we all so crazy about the Unicorn.

Google Trends has recently confirmed that there’s been a steady and stable rise in the search term “unicorns” since 2012, which according to their graph,  reached hysteric proportions during the five days this April when  the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino was available. (Davis, 2017)

The Unicorn, a mythical creature

The image we have nowadaylandscape-1494001216-image2s of unicorns consist of pastel and bright colours, preferable in pink or purple, but this image is not the image people held of unicorns thousands of
years ago. The first depictions of the unicorn were made by the Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations and are described in the works of the ancient Greek historian Ctesias. But it was the unfortunate mistranslations of the King James Bible’s Old Testament brought the one-horned horses into the new era. (Deczynski, 2017)

If we look for more modern notations of the unicorn, we can see that more notations of this mythical creature arise around the second century. The first notation who elaborated on why we are connecting Unicorns to girlhood, can be found in the Christian text Physiologus. In this text a unicorn, not a friendly nor gentle creature by nature, gets tamed by a virgin woman. From this point forward the unicorn became an emblem of purity and chastity. (Deczynski, 2017)

“This obsession with unicorns is nothing new — with social media, we’ve just found a different way to show it,” says Vaughn Scribner, an assistant history professor at the University of Central Arkansas who studies mythical creatures. “In the 18th century, the smartest men in the world were running around trying to find unicorns and mermaids and monstrosities. Our society has always shared a wondrous hope that maybe a whimsical notion could be proven true.” (Davis, 2017)

The “Unicorn Crave” already existed centuries ago

Today everyone is craving to get a Farsáli Unicorn Essence serum or a Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks, but during the Middle ages and the Renaissance they were already craving for everything unicorn inspired. And of course, the rumour was that unicorn products were made from actual unicorns. (Deczynski, 2017)

From the middle ages until the mid-18th century (Renaissance), there was a great market for the horn of a unicorn, called alicorn, which was believed to have magical medicinal properties. It was falsely promised by physicians that the alicorn had the ability to cure diseases and detect poison. Which led to it being sold as powder, carved into ornate cups, etc. But in reality, everything that was sold as “alicorn” was made from the horn of a narwhal, oryx or the tusks of elephants or walruses. (Deczynski, 2017)

The current “Unicorn crave”

The current Unicorn crave containing pink and sparkling unicorn was not a thing until the branding efforts of Disney, Hasbro and Lisa Frank. They are the ones who created the image we have of unicorns these days, in the ancient Greece unicorns horned goats or donkeys and in Japan they resembled a horned combination of a lion and a dragon. (Deczynski, 2017)

IMG_31441-Unicorn-Frappuccino-from-BrijThe Unicorn trend really took off in 1982 with the premiere of the Last unicorn, a movie starring Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow, in which it became as feminine
as we know it. But it was not until this year that the hype became even bigger than the years before thanks to the introduction of the Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks. But why would a company as big as Starbucks be interested in such an old “trend” including magical creatures?

Within this research
project on Unicorns we are trying to find out what their relation is to the U.S. food market of Starbucks and how Starbucks implemented this. To structure the research, we have created the following research question and sub-questions:

Main research question: How can Starbucks use the unicorn trend in order to get more publicity?


  1. Where did the unicorn trend come from?
  2. How do people react to the unicorn trend?
  3. Who is talking about it?

Literature Review

Metro UK
On 12 February 2015 Metro UK published an article on why the unicorn was trending at that moment. The article mentions that the #unicorn was trending on that day because it was the birthday of Charles Darwin. The unicorn is popular on this day because creationists use the lack of existence of the mythical animal as a way to debunk Darwin’s evolution theory. This small hype around the unicorn in 2015 has more in common with a fad then with a trend, but because unicorn related merchandise started to rise again, and because multiple celebrities posted something about it on social media this moment as described in the article could be a harbinger for the phenomenon the unicorn is today.

On the 8
th of May 2017 the female-centric blog refinery29 posted an article on what is behind the unicorn trend. They did their research using google trends. According to the article there has been a steady rise in the term unicorn on social media since 2012. The article mentions several celebrities endorsing this trend by posting pictures of themselves on social media while wearing or using unicorn related merchandise. The article ends with mentioning the unicorn trend is slowly fading away and making room for a mermaid trend. The blogpost makes clever use of the history of the unicorn trend which according to them started during the 1980’s but really took off in the 1990’s because of the my little pony hype which still is present today. the blogpost also mentions the hysteria surrounding unicorns for 5 days in april when starbucks released their unicorn frappuccino. This shows that now thanks to starbucks everything unicorn related has become a hot topic, with multiple celebrities and companies  cashing in on the current hype. In the article the current hype around unicorns is called a fad several times, but according to this source and multiple others the unicorn has been popular for decennia, but only really big right now because of social media celebrities promoting the creature and social media marketing campaigns keeping the craze going.

Metro UK
On the 26th of April Miranda Larbi, a journalist for Metro UK, posted an article on the unicorn trend and why it needs to die. In this article Miranda sets the whole unicorn trend in a bad light, Miranda thinks that the unicorn represents a problem within the millennial generation, namely peter-pan syndrome and the need for escapism. Miranda explains these problems by looking at the domestic situations surrounding the millennials . with the high house prices these days it is not uncommon for millennials to live in their childhood room, surrounded by childhood toys and wall decorations, well into their twenties. Miranda sees similarities between the unicorn trend and alcohol/ drug abuse. They are both ways for people to escape the harsh reality we live in. In the article there is also talk about so called mermaiding, which is  very similar to the unicorn trend but with mermaids as the focus. all  in all Miranda Larbi has a very subjective view on the trend and believes the trend is in her own words crap. The fact that she compares the unicorn trend to drug and alcohol abuse really shows off her intense negative view on the trend. All in all this source tries to explain where the unicorn trend comes from and what the appeal of the use of this mythical creature in marketing could be, and narrows it down to nostalgia and escapism.

The Lore by Odell Shepard (1930)
The lore of the unicorn written by Odell Shepard in 1930 describes various aspects surrounding the unicorn myth and their development. This book and the way it is written helps us understand how the unicorn concept developed over the years and where it came from. To determine the reason why and how this creature is used in marketing we will first have to know the story behind the legends of this mythical creature. According to the book the unicorn and the mystery behind it has  been used in marketing for centuries. this book tries to explain the appeal of the creature by using the lore surrounding it. The unicorn concept used in marketing 400 years ago differs greatly from the concept big companies like starbucks use today, but there are still some similarities which could mean the unicorn concept within marketing has evolved over the years and some very strong aspects of the creature are still used today, which means they are still very appealing.

Research design and Methodology

Trend analysis
Trend analysis is a process where data surrounding a trend is monitored, data is recorded and the results are examined and explained. There are several different ways of analysing trends, with most variation coming from the method used for data collection. Trend analysis is used by many organizations, especially in business. Having data to show patterns, habits and response to trends can be very valuable to companies developing business strategies. The setbacks of trend analysis is that often a large amount of data can be interpreted the wrong way. Online human communication is complex it is very difficult to accurately have a computer determine the true meaning of an online interaction. Using good keywords and choosing communities to analyze carefully is therefore important to gain more accurate data. (Business Queensland, 2016)

Data Visualization (Gephi)
In order to visualize the data we collected through our netnography, we are using a program called Gephi. In order to have easily understood results, we must create graphs and tables that clearly show our findings. Gephi is a program similar to Microsoft Excel or SPSS in the way that you enter data and the program draws out graphs according to that data. Gephi has many more complex functions and is used often to depict a variety of 3D graphs, where we can analyse changes over time and patterns, as well as manipulate our findings as a way to experiment. “It is used to tell stories through data” (About, Gephi).

The online research method we will be using for this research is netnography. Netnography is a form of ethnography that looks at the behavior of people within online communities. It involves looking at large amounts of online behavior in order to then form a conclusion about what the people in those online communities are saying or thinking (Poynter, 2010).

There are six steps to follow when using netnography as your research method. The steps are as follows:

  1. Literature review and identifying the research question(s)

In this step the researcher is to conduct an extensive literature review of the research topic. After the literature review, the researcher formulates a research question based on the existing knowledge and the gaps in knowledge.

  1. Locating the field(s) online

This second step requires the researchers to locate online communities where the research topic is being discussed, and where members of this community are actively engaged. Researchers must become familiarize themselves with the chosen communities’ culture and rituals.


  1. Ethical considerations

In this third step the researcher must make a few ethical decisions. First, it must be clear that ethical considerations depend on the research topic and the way in which the data will be used. Researchers might also want to ask permission from, for example the host of a forum, to conduct research in their community. Researchers want to ensure the members of the community that their identity will remain anonymous.

  1. Data gathering

In this fourth step, data is to be collected. This is the most critical phase of all. For collecting data, different methods can be used. One of the methods can be “sequential-top-down posting” where data is collected from the present, going back to older posts. Another method for collecting data can be systematic random assignment, but there are many other methods that may be used to collect the data.

  1. Data analysis

Step five of netnography is the stage in which researcher are to analyze the data. Data will be organized by giving codes/memos to the different data.

  1. Abstractions and trustworthiness

Finally, step six. In this last step, researcher will discuss the results and answer the research question. The researcher is also to provide recommendations and argue the trustworthiness of their study (Salzmann-Erikson & Eriksson).

After having collected the data through netnography, we will put the data in ATLAS.ti. In this program we will code all the collected data (quotes) and put the codes into main categories. The codes and categories will be made as seem fit to the data we will have collected. ATLAS.ti will help giving us a clear overview of the data once all data has been coded.

Online Research

Trend analysis
When the topic “unicorn” caught our attention during our first brainstorm session were not fully aware of the background or details regarding this trend, except for the fact that we all had noticed the unicorn appearance on social media sites. Therefore we made the decision to approach Google Trends in order to gain knowledge about the unicorn trend. Google Trends is an online search tool that allows users to see how often specific keywords, subjects and phrases have been used over a certain period of time. (Darcy, 2013)

After entering the topic “unicorn” into the Google Trend program we gathered the following data.

Trend Analysis 1.pngAs can be seen in the graph above, the interest over around the topic “unicorn” has piqued after December 2016 and therefore is a recent trend.

Trend Analysis 2.pngThe second graph visualizes the interest by region, and shows that the trend mostly occurs in the western parts of the world.

When looking at the top 12 related topics and top 18 related queries we noticed that the following keywords were linked to the organization Starbucks.

Related topics #4 Frappuccino – Topic
#7 Starbucks – Coffee company
#12 Drink – Type of dish
Related queries #10 Unicorn Frappuccino
#16 Starbucks
#17 Unicorn Starbucks

(Google Trends)

Due to the findings about the unicorn trend and the link to the coffee company Starbucks we searched for the origination of this relationship. Results led to the launch of a new Starbucks drink, named the “Unicorn Frappuccino”. (Starbucks)

Trend Analysis 8

However, this new product of Starbucks is a limited edition drink and therefore only available for a few days in the United States. Starbuck’s Unicorn Frappuccino caused lots of attention on social media and is also popular among highly influential social media users. This interesting trend combined with a marketing campaign for Starbucks made us curious on how successful this campaign will be as well as what the future opportunities could be for Starbucks.



Research strategy
Before starting our online research and gathering data it is important to first decide where this data can be found. To create a reliable outcome we have decided to do research on three social media platforms, which are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Besides the use of data of multiple social media platform we have also decided to search for information based on five different hashtags. A joint brainstorm session with all group members has led to the choice of the following hashtags:

Social media site Hashtag
Facebook #Unicornfood
Twitter #Unicorn
Instagram #Unicorn

The chosen hash tags are popular used hash tags on the above-mentioned social media platforms, which increase the reliability of the outcome of the research. In order to gather data according to the chosen hash tags we will use an online free platform called Netlytic to download information. The information collected via Netlytic will be linked to an application called Gephi, and is meant to visualize networks surrounding a certain topic. Gephi will give us a clear view on how the hash tags are related to certain people, communities, companies etc. By analyzing this information we can conclude whether the unicorn trend still exists and if so, where this trend is most popular. The answers to these questions lead to the main research question, which is: “Should Starbucks continue with the unicorn trend within their marketing strategy?”

After conducting research via Netlytic and Gephi we will conduct qualitative research via the online research method netnography. We will select at least two online communities by creating a mind map existing of keywords around the unicorn trend. The qualitative data, which will be retrieved by conducting research within these online communities, will be coded via ATLAS. The conclusions that can be drawn from this research will also be linked to the main research question.


– Davis, A. 2017. What’s Really Behind Unicorn Fever. Retrieved on 08-05-2017. Retrieved from:
– Deczynski, R. (2017, 05 05). The Secret History of the Unicorn Trend. Retrieved from wearesweet:
– Larbi, M. 2017. the unicorn trend is infantilizing us all and it needs to die. retrieved on 30-05-2017, retrieved from:
– Poynter. (2010). The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
– Salzmann-Erikson, M., & Eriksson, H. LiLEDDA: A Six-Step Forum-Based Netnographic Research Method for Nursing Science. Aporia , 4 (4), 9-15.
– Shepard, O. 1930. the lore of the unicorn. Courier Corporation. retrieved on 31-05-2017. retrieved from:
– Willis, A. 2015. 13 things you never knew about unicorns retrieved on 08-05-2017. Retrieved from:


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