The Pumpkin Spice Effect

“Pumpkin spice and everything nice.” – Unknown

The crisp air of fall is here, and with it comes the creamy, spicy flavors of the notorious Pumpkin Spice Latte. There is no more talked about drink than that of the famously touted ‘PSL’, and that caused us to stop and think why is that? What makes this seasonal beverage so famous? And how can we use the tactics its creator used to launch it into stardom to our advantage? Let’s take a deeper look into what I’ve deemed ‘The Pumpkin Spice Effect.’

By the time August arrives, the signs of summer ending are everywhere you look. Kids are going back to school, the stores are full of fake, fall foliage, and the beverage everyone loves to hate hits stores once again. Since its debut in 2003, the Pumpkin Spice Latte has become the #1 selling seasonal beverage of all time, now surpassing over 500 million total items sold. How has Starbucks been able to keep the love alive for 20 years? Through the simple act of ingenious marketing. They’ve not only marketed the PSL as a must have item, but they’ve created an item that feels like more than just espresso and syrup to people. The latte encompasses the entire season of fall itself, and that’s the magic of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. 

As advertisers, there is much to be learned from the success of the PSL, and we’re here to break it down. The strategies used in this campaign can be used in any campaign, for any item, during any season. The team at Starbucks has put on a masterclass of marketing, so let’s take a peek into exactly what they’ve been able to accomplish, and how you can use the steps to create successful campaigns for your clients. 

Marketing Lessons from the Famous PSL

  1. Know Your Target Audience

I’m sure there was a collective groan as you read that first lesson. Of course any good advertiser knows that the key to any good campaign is knowing your audience and successfully targeting them. But in this instance, Starbucks took this step to the next level. With their PSL campaigns, specifically, Starbucks really looks at targeting millennials. How do they do that? By changing it up! We all know that people need to be entertained today, so Starbucks uses creative, engaging imagery and videos to entice people. The latte itself is a staple at this point, but the excitement of it coming back can easily be evoked by an amusing graphic, and that’s exactly what the coffee brand does.

Use the same strategy for your brand. Use exciting, engaging visuals to help build a sense of excitement around you and your business. It’s what people want, so let’s be sure to meet the consumers exactly where they are.

  1. Be Exclusive & Current

Exclusivity isn’t a tough thing to achieve when you only come around once a year for a few months, but being current? That’s easier said than done. Somehow, Starbucks still manages to be both. With its popularity, the Pumpkin Spice Latte could easily be a year round latte, and fans have asked…and asked…and asked, but Starbucks continues to keep with the same structure they’ve maintained for 20 years, and why is that? The VIP feeling. That’s why. Staying current is a little trickier, and yet, Starbucks still manages to make it look easy. Whether they’re announcing a change up in the PSL’s flavor profile, or introducing a new pumpkin beverage, like the 2019 Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, Starbucks always manages to find a way to bring a lot of excitement and chatter to what they’re doing year after year. 

Creating chatter is easier said than done, but when it comes to any business, social media is a great place to start. That’s where most people are, so ask questions on your page, do giveaways, and engage with your audience. Show people that you care that they’re following along, and give them a reason to do just that.

  1. Offer a Storytelling Experience

Something that makes the PSL unique is the way that it makes people feel. The seasonal latte brings a lot of joy to a lot of people because it evokes a sense of nostalgia, and there is no better sales tactic than nostalgia. For many consumers, the Pumpkin Spice Latte tastes like autumn, but it’s also the first taste of the holiday season, and that evokes a lot of emotion within itself.

Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason as to how a brand can create a storytelling experience for its consumers, but you can certainly think about what you can offer your audience and go from there! What experience are you offering? 

  1. Be Engaged About the Friend Zone

Engage! Engage! Engage! There is a real person behind every brand. It doesn’t matter if that brand has 10,000 followers or 10,000,000 followers, there is a real person behind it, and that person should be engaging. With Starbucks, pumpkin spice season is some of their most engaging time. They spend much of their time online interacting with followers, while also taking time to poke fun at themselves.

The one thing that has yet to be mentioned, is just how ‘basic’ PSLs are…or so people want us to believe. The Urban Dictionary describes the beloved beverage as “A drink from starbucks that many white girls drink during the fall while dressed in boots (typically Uggs), yoga pants (or leggings of some sort), and a jacket.” Rather than fighting back, Starbucks leans into the stereotype. At one point in time, they even posted a photo of a PSL in a yoga studio. They’ve managed to take something that someone meant to be negative, and turn it into a positive. Now it’s rare to find anyone who cares about the ‘basicness’ of drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and that’s all because they chose to engage.

How you choose to engage with your audience may not have to be at the same level of Starbucks, but they’ve certainly proved just how important engagement is to a brand. 

  1. Have Fun

One of the best ways to bring a sense of calmness to yourself and your brand is to simply have fun. If you’ve got a product to sell, have fun with your strategy. For Starbucks, they’ve had many different brand ambassadors for their PSL, they’ve dressed it up for online photos, and it’s even been part of a rap battle, all for the sake of social media. As silly as it all sounds, the silliness pays off, and people buy in, because they like the personality that the brand is showing.

Show your personality and have fun. You’ll reap the benefits of it. 

It’s no secret that every year as the temperature outside falls, excitement inside rises, as the return of everyone’s favorite seasonal beverage rears its head once more. With the help of top tier marketing strategies, the excitement brought on by the beverage hasn’t faded a bit in 20 years, and that’s why there can only be one name for this phenomena: The Pumpkin Spice Effect.

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