WHY THE EFF ARE WE SO OBSESSED WITH UNICORNS?
These mythical creatures are having a moment.
What does this fascination with a mythical creature say about grown women?
For those of you who like coffee, reading things on the internet, using your eyes, or just noticing things, you’ve no doubt noticed an influx of unicorn-related fluff floating around. Gone are the days of My Little
Pony alone tickling your horsey proclivities. Now there’s a stable of products from unicorn makeup and unicorn toast to floaties for the pool, ornaments for the house, unicorn essence for the face and “unicorn snot” (otherwise known as “wet glitter”) for everything else. In my quest to unveil all that was ‘corn-y, I even happened upon a unicorn dildo. True story.
We’ve become tangled in a glitter-covered matrix of largerthan-life proportions. And just as I neared the end of my tether, Starbucks went and introduced their Unicorn Frappuccino—a drink that doesn’t even have a drop of caffeine, just syrupy goodness to keep your sugar levels spiked and rearing for horseplay. Just like that, the hype was turned up to 11.
Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier says you can blame the tech-heads in Silicon Valley for introducing the whole idea. They started using the term “unicorn” in 2013 to describe a rare, good investment opportunity—usually valued at over the billion-dollar mark—and however innocently conceived, it wasn’t long before the masses attached their own meaning to the word.
“The unicorn trend has two key prongs: this Silicon Valley tech and cool meaning, and also this inno- cent meme,” says Ferrier. “It’s cute and fun, but also intelligent. If you participate in the unicorn trend, you’re participating in a trend that is aspirational but also playful.”
So why are grown women fawning over mystical gallopers that are merely a figment of our imagination? (You knew that, yes?)
“There’s something Freudian and sexual about it,” Ferrier says. “The fact unicorns don’t exist means there isn’t going to be a unicorn that comes along and ruins it—it’s not going to get caught out doing bad behavior.”
That’s right, there shall be no sex tapes or cocaine scandals: unicorns are sparkly and family friendly. Most of all, they’ve come at a time when society needs a distraction from the maelstrom of shit that’s floating around the universe daily. Politics, death, and destruction...what’s the harm in a little shimmer to shimmy away the bad vibes? It’s the same reason we’re also glued to each new episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, right? And if the world gets too much, there are unicorn band-aids to actually cover up any physical pain.
But with saturation, the horns come out for real. Let’s go back to the aforementioned Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino that took the trend from “Yeah, OK, cute,” to “Yeah, OK, this is ridiculous.” In Williamsburg, coffee shop The End Brooklyn is suing Starbucks for $10 million for ripping off their unicorn creation. That’s right, just when you thought ol’ S’bucks got the party started, it seems Brooklyn knew what was up—and they’re not happy their idea was seemingly hijacked. As Ferrier explains, though, the nature of advertising and brand communications means these companies need to work in stereotypes and mental shortcuts. So it was only a matter of time before two different companies clashed over the ‘corns.
“You don’t have much time to get your message across,” he says. “If there is a pre-established meme in our society, it’s an easy way to say, ‘We’re part of popular culture and want to play along.’ You won’t see bleeding-edge brands working with unicorns in their communications—it’s only mass market.”
If we’re looking for someone, or something, to blame, look no further than social media, I say. At the time of print, there were a touch over 5.5 million posts tagged #unicorn. Perhaps this trend is just on steroids because we are so readily presented with the products of our obsession. Plus, unicorn things look pretty.
the end is not neigh nigh
The faster these snap trends rise, the faster they fall. There’s a meme a second on the internet, replaced by something equally inane the next day. And those fidget spinners, I can guarantee, will be in the dump by next issue. But unicorns are differ
ent. We haven’t noticed how long they’ve been in the pop culture vernacular. But as one more person buys one more product, one more company decides to jump into the ring and beg for cash. “Right now, it’s a way for a company to say ‘We’re part of the conversation and we’ll ride it with the masses,’” says Ferrier. And ride it, we shall.