This past holiday season Starbucks activated their notorious Holiday Cups with augmented reality through Spark AR. Starbucks partnered with the Spark AR Partnerships team at Facebook to take the moment that they have with their consumers worldwide and create a moment of joy with their consumers during the holiday season.

There are four unique “Holiyay” experiences attached to the four different holiday cup designs from Starbucks. Launching the Starbucks “Holiyay” effect from the @Starbucks Instagram profile, allows you to then point your Instagram Stories Camera at any of the four cups and watch them come to life.

The physical cup designs are made to evoke mini-moments of joy for Starbucks customers and partners – it’s fun, easy, festive and uniquely Starbucks. The designs are called Polka Dots, Merry Dance, Merry Stripes and Candy Cane Stripe.

  1. Polka Dots: The traditional Starbucks red cup is dotted with green, with the Siren playfully popping in here and there.
  2. Merry Dance: A lively pairing of red and green letters jazz up a snowy white cup with a joyful holiday wish.
  3. Merry Stripes: From a distance, this cup looks like it’s wrapped in green vintage wrapping paper. But up close, its tiny type offers a happy holiday sentiment.
  4. Candy Cane Stripes: The colors of the holiday all come together with this design as the Starbucks wordmark falls like snow against stripes of candy cane red and white.

Each augmented reality experiences has been designed to enhance the existing centerpiece, which is the cup itself. Two of the experiences are tied directly to the cup and the other two add additional festive cheer around the user, in space, to add to their experience with the cup and evoke a Shareable Moment.

Signage on how to activate the effects in their retail stores

10 flagship Starbucks locations also have prominent signage within their space to publicize the experience with an Instagram Nametag present and instructions on how to launch the effects. In places where the signage is not present, users can access the effects by going to the @Starbucks account within their Instagram app, selecting the effects tab underneath the profile highlights, selecting the “HOLIYAY!” effect, and pressing the “Try It” button in the bottom left.

In addition to the on-site experience, Facebook and Starbucks partnered with 50+ Spark AR influencers to put together a guerrilla marketing campaign that launched the following week to help drive awareness of the effects within our current Spark AR users on Instagram.

They also created Starbucks + Spark AR Swag boxes for the Spark AR Influencers, which include Spark AR swag, each of the four Starbucks Holiday Cups, Starbucks gift cards, personal messages about our excitement for them creating on Spark, and a first look and instructions on how to activate and share the Starbucks partnership with their followers.

Starbucks + Spark AR Swag Boxes

We encourage you to go out to your nearest Starbucks and experience the effects firsthand.


Starbucks took the behavior that already existed in and around their retail locations – taking photos of Starbucks cups and posting them to social media – and enhancing it by adding a new way to interact and connect meaningfully around holiday cheer. Ultimately we hope to see more of these types of third place experiences evolve, with more brands and businesses investing in world-anchored AR associated with the places and items that people love both now, on mobile, and in the future on HMDs.

  • 4 Target: The 4 holiday cup designs
  • Prominent signage promoting the activation at 10 flagship Starbucks locations
  • Built to recognize and track 4 holiday cups available in 14,000+ US and Canada locations

Check out the previous work Starbucks did with augmented reality back in 2011 below:

Starbucks Cup Augmented Reality Experience for Valentines Day back in 2011

At UpLevel, we’re happy to talk to you and figure a way that you can bring your product packaging and merchandise to life. Let us work with you to bring something magical to life for your consumers. Reach out to us on our Contact Us page and we’ll get a call scheduled to discuss how we can work together!