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Starbucks stirs holiday cheer via mobile-enabled cup decorating contest

Starbucks is driving a final bit of holiday branding awareness by asking customers to draw designs on the company?s red cups and upload images to Instagram or Twitter using a designated hashtag for a chance to have their artwork featured.

The new campaign aims to celebrate the passion that Starbucks customers feel toward its popular holiday beverage-holders, which showcase a different theme each year. 2015?s cups are a solid crimson color, leaving plenty of room for fans to doodle wintry designs on them and upload their masterpieces using the #RedCupArt hashtag, which aggregates Starbucks? favorites on a microsite.

?Starbucks did a great job at driving brand awareness for its iconic holiday red cups for this holiday season,? said Amir Zonozi, chief strategy officer of Zoomph, Reston, VA. ?By putting its cup at the center of the campaign, as a canvas for creativity, it allows fans and artists an opportunity to share their work with others.

?This campaign is great for a number of reasons. It is a relatively low barrier of entry, you just need a Starbucks cup, and to get one you need to buy a drink during the holidays.?

Swirling up seasonal spirit
Starbucks customers inspired to add their own seasonal designs to this year?s plain crimson cups are encouraged to take pictures of their final masterpieces and upload them to social media. Each post tagged with #RedCupArt will be reviewed by the coffee brand, which will select its favorites to post on

The mobile-optimized microsite currently features several chosen posts. Consumers can scroll through the Tumblr-hosted page to view cups decorated with drawings of tree ornaments, poinsettias, dreamcatchers, Christmas trees and holiday-inspired graffiti.

Starbucks credits each artist?s Instagram account in the accompanying picture caption, ensuring that selected participants will experience social media buzz as other fans flock to their pages to scroll through other posts.

?I think this campaign shows that even without a contest, a brand as well-known as Starbucks does not need to have prizing,? said Scott Michaels, vice president of client engagement at ArcTouch, San Francisco. ?The submitted cups already on the site are quite impressive.

?The only way to add prizing would be for it to be an entry into a sweepstakes, which would encourage entries in general.?

This process of discovery will likely bode well for the brand, which will undoubtedly sell even more of its popular seasonal beverages as other customers become inspired to doodle their own drawings on the red cups.

?By incorporating UGC, Starbucks allows its audience to market for it by creating content for them to share on their individual networks and serve as a tool for discovery for others to join in participation,? Zoomph's Mr. Zonozi said. ?UGC benefits three people: the brand, its selected audience, and potential customers.

?The brand gets to see what motivates its audience to share and enjoy its products,? he said. ?The selected audience enjoys the attention of being highlighted by the brand.

?The potential customer gets to see how real people enjoy the products in an authentic way. I hope Starbucks is tracking this data and incorporating a tracking of contextual influence within the campaign, and which demographics found themselves participating for future reference.?

Organic advertising
Starbucks is also promoting its #RedCupArt campaign on a slew of social networks. Facebook users may spot the branded advertisement in their newsfeeds, prompting them to click the link and get taken to the microsite to peruse newly-added images.

However, the advertising possesses an organic feel, due to consumers? excitement at seeing other fans? interpretations of holiday scenes on the crimson cups. The community-first mindset of this campaign makes sure that Starbucks customers have a chance at seeing their artwork featured on a popular site.

Starbucks is also hosting another holiday-themed contest for less artistically-inclined consumers.

For its second-annual Starbucks for Life campaign, the coffeehouse chain is rewarding members via an online game encouraging repeat purchases throughout the month (see story).

Additionally, Starbucks was named 2015 Mobile Retailer of the Year, proving that no other retailer today better understands the crossover between customers? love affair with their smartphones and when and where they want to engage with the brand than Starbucks does (see story).

Another option for driving higher levels of participation in the #RedCupArt campaign would be to offer an incentive for the social media post with the most likes.

?An incentive is always a way to gather more engagement to encourage people to participate,? Mr. Zonozi said. ?What?s great about this campaign is that it did not even need to provide an incentive outside of featuring the artist to its audience.

?The only recommendation I would make to Starbucks is that it should aggregate all of this content on one page, and on their own domain instead of a Tumblr page ? unless it is specifically targeting a younger demographic,? he said. ?Using a social hub with moderated content is the best way to get your audience engaged with other posts and promote discovery within the campaign.

?The Tumblr page it created doesn?t allow much highlight for the artists behind the cup and keeps the focus mostly on the design itself ? I would recommend a healthy balance between the two.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York