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The Starbucks #OrangeDrink Was Just A Social Experiment

Within the last month, Starbucks' "secret menu" has made headlines thanks in part to a line up of beautiful drinks found on the Rainbow Secret Menu. Now, the #OrangeDrink is blowing up — but that was all part of the plan.

The coffee chain's rainbow beverage trend has become an Internet sensation without any official advertising from Starbucks. In fact, a closer look reveals that Starbucks' secret menu could be a concept perpetuated by die-hard Starbucks fans and well-trained baristas.

That's where the #OrangeDrink comes in. We wanted to prove social media was the primary force driving the secret drink phenomenon. In order to prove this theory, we tried an experiment, just to see how far social media could run with it. 

The #OrangeDrink, specifically, was a product of a Foodbeast experiment to prove that the color of the drink did not matter, but more so to show that social media was the only tool needed to create a new trend, instantly.

After Foodbeast broke news on the #PinkDrink craze June 1, it got more than 100,000 Instagram posts dedicated to it. Shortly after our Pink Drink coverage, the #RainbowDrink trend started gaining attention from notable publications like Time magazine, The Huffington Post and PopSugar.

Our friend and local Orange County food-influencer, Scott Nghiem (@ScottAfters), co-owner of Afters Ice Cream, posted the first images of Starbucks' #PurpleDrink on his Instagram page last week, it generated 16.5K likes. Scott's post of the #PinkDrink received 35K likes. Scott has 120K followers and on average he receives about 5K likes per post, Scott's secret rainbow drink posts generated approximately 50K likes, respectively.

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Last Thursday, as the Foodbeast news team casually discussed the hype behind the pink and purple drinks and how we were not blown away by the taste of either color, Marc leaned over the mezzanine on the second floor and yelled down to our bullpen, "Let's go to Starbucks and make an orange drink."

We looked up the #OrangeDrink hashtag and luckily enough there was nothing Starbucks related. Marc, Izzy, Reach and I walked into our Downtown Santa Ana Starbucks, where we are on a first name basis with store manager Eric Olson. We told Eric what we were working on and what we had in mind.

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"We want an orange drink and we want it to taste delicious," I said.

Being the gracious host that he is, Eric went above and beyond to deliver what we asked. He may have single-handedly created the best tasting secret drink yet. After Eric made a few variations, it seemed that mixology is really the secret behind the success of Starbuck's so-called "secret menu."

Eric explained that Starbucks doesn't officially recognize a "secret menu" but credited the baristas for playing a pivotal role in responding to a customer's palate when discovering new flavor concepts.

However, as baristas continue to create sensational flavor profiles — that are dominating social media with countless posts of approval — Starbucks is reaping all the benefits. Additionally, secret menu fanatics are busy tracking down the perfect opportunity to purchase "secret" drinks — in order to frantically post photos of these aesthetically pleasing beverages to social media — the coffee giant is cashing in.

With each Instagram, Facebook and Twitter post, the colorful drink trend grows. Further perpetuating the demand for off-menu items — all while generating an insane amount of free advertising for Starbucks. Not to mention the extra charges for ingredients like soy, or coconut milk.

So, could it be that timely coordination and Instagram traffic drove enough attention to create an instant trend without the help of the company behind the beverages?

The answer is yes.

We used the #OrangeDrink as a jumping off point to get another colorful Starbucks drink trending. As fate would have it, the #OrangeDrink instantly became known as the best tasting rainbow drink and social media quickly followed suit.

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A few Foodbeast staffers and myself posted #OrangeDrink photos to our Instagram accounts and waited for social media to react. Over the weekend, Yahoo! News, Refinery 29, MashableThrillist, NBC Business and NBC New York all reported on the #OrangeDrink as the new summer drink to try.

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Without diving into sales numbers and statistics, this trend is a reflection of something bigger. Baristas are trained to work with an open system, which allows them to create flavors that cater to any palate, simultaneously becoming artists in their own right. There's no back of the house manual explaining how to create these new beverages.

It's also important to note that these trends are happening so fast, baristas are having a hard time keeping up. Although, some may be a little annoyed with Starbucks fanatics constantly testing the waters of what can be created behind the counter. The possibilities are endless.

At the same time, baristas are being blindsided with strange drink orders, scrambling to figure out what's supposed to be inside these "secret drinks" everyone is ordering — just because they saw it on social media.

After digging into the Reddit channel "r/Starbucks" and under a subreddit thread, "There's an orange drink now???" we found Starbucks' employees are sounding off on their disapproval of this exponentially growing trend.

User Breslayy obviously didn't like the #PurpleDrink and said all the other drinks were "awful."

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User Agaue said it felt like customers were purposely trolling baristas. Good eye, kid.

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As Starbucks' reaps the rewards from social media exploiting their "secret menu" for free, the baristas are stuck with the grunt work, and receive little incentive for having to learn these "secret" drinks on the spot.

But, as Reddit user ToastyXD worded it — it's become part of the job description for baristas to understand that Starbucks' open mixology system makes all this possible.

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However, some baristas just don't care at all.

Where the #pinkdrink #orangedrink and #purpledrink belong. #starbucks #notsorry

A video posted by Danielle Vaughn (@heytheredanielle) on

We have to thank Starbucks' open and expansive mixology system, without it, none of this would have been possible. The only problem is, we might have simultaneously created the best drink of the summer as a joke. However, it's not something we are trying to keep a secret.

Thank you, Internet!

Featured image: @kuyameztizo