An Ode to the Pumpkin Spice Latte

As I sit in my Rubenstein common room updating my planner for the week, I read happy first day of fall scrawled in cursive on September 22. Having passed the fall equinox and under Lilly Pulitzer’s permission, I now feel validated in officially breaking out my oversized sweaters that have been in storage for way too long, sipping on pumpkin infused chai tea, and lighting my resident-hall-violating Montana Forest Fall candle. Salem, Honeypot Orchard, cider tasting next weekend anyone?? Clearly, I am a fall enthusiast and here is a short list explaining why:

  1. Pumpkin flavored cereal is the best-flavored cereal.
  2. The gourd family is one of the most underrated produces families. Fall gives pumpkins, squashes, and any other cucurbits the confidence they lack nine out of the twelve months of the year.
  3. Football is back…who doesn’t like football?
  4. Apple picking – yes, I recently braved the crowds of Honeypot orchard, waited in way too long of a line for delicious apple cider donuts, and paid $28 so that my friends and I could pick Farmer Honeypot’s apples for him. For the love of fall, it was well worth the time and money.
  5. Fall TV shows are back (I’m looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy).
  6. I live for “That Day” aka the first day it really feels like fall – not necessarily the fall equinox.
  7. My pencils are still relatively fresh from back to school shopping.
  8. Trader Joe’s becomes even more awesome in the fall time and I love it.screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-9-53-01-pm
  9. Squash is now a cooking staple (see #2) – butternut squash soup, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, you name it.
  10. Though we most likely won’t be making our own, Jack-o-lanterns are everywhere and they make me happy.
  11. Speaking of Jack-o-Lanterns, pumpkin seeds are tasty and half the reason why I appreciate carving pumpkins.
  12. The smell of hot apple cider is one of the best smells in the world.
  13. The smell of cinnamon in hot apple cider is the best smell in the world.
  14. The leaves are changing and Boston College looks even more beautiful.
  15. Apple cider donuts rival any other flavor of donut (see #4).
  16. Try to name a bread that is tastier than pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting – you can’t.
  17. Though Halloween is not my favorite holiday, brainstorming awesome Halloween outfits is a fan favorite activity.
  18. After Halloween comes Thanksgiving – the best holiday of the year.

In case you aren’t convinced, check out this article for why fall is, in fact, the best season of the year.

Though not every aspect of fall is worthy of such elation (ahem, Black Friday, ahem), recognizing such an affinity for something as simple as a season of the year is extremely relevant to how businesses can market their products effectively. Given my aforementioned love for autumn and this undoubted love felt by many others, businesses should recognize this significant marketing opportunity and leverage its consumers’ widespread, deep-rooted celebration of all seasons, especially fall. If done well, brands can increase consumer traffic, drive revenue, enhance their brand image, and, overall, increase customer loyalty.

Starbucks is the MVP brand in the game of seasonal marketing, especially during the autumn months. It markets its brand through every social media platform, mainly Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. In doing so, it bolsters customer excitement over missed menu items, attracts new customers, and inspires its existing customer base to experiment with new menu item purchases. Its most popular fall menu item, the Pumpkin Spice Latte, epitomizes the successful seasonal product launch and marketing necessary to expand brand recognition and popularity. It was created in 2003 after the company noted the success of its holiday seasonal drinks. Why not expand to fall? Starbucks has effectively tied the widespread enjoyment for autumn to a single product, the PSL.  It has created an intensely loyal following and culture of fans, possibly likened to that of the Grateful Dead. Today, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is so closely associated to the season of fall that it is almost impossible to describe autumn without mentioning this drink. Since its launch, the PSL has gained popularity year after year. Today it even has its own official Twitter account. Its bio defines itself as “THE OFFICIAL TWITTER FOR FALL’S OFFICIAL BEVERAGE.” Can you say customer loyalty?

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For any dedicated drinkers dying for a stronger PSL connection, have no fear, it has a Facebook page too.

 

With Starbucks as the leader of seasonal marketing, other brands have attempted to recreate similar success. In an attempt to reach its primary consumer segments more effectively, Ugg has partnered with theSkimm, a popular email newsletter publisher. TheSkimm’s target audience is primarily targeted to young, urban women, a large segment of Ugg customer base. Ugg marketing its brand through a seasonal lens clearly associates its boots with fall. Its social media efforts, seen below, follow Starbucks initiative to align its products with seasons.

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Regardless of your seasonal preference, your stance on the greatness or grossness of the PSL, and whether or not you appreciate furry, sheep-laced winter boots, it is evident that businesses that can align their brand or products with a season are more likely to enhance brand following and consumer loyalty than those who do not.

8 comments

  1. Haha. It’s funny that PSL always becomes the subject of blog posts at some point in this semester. Do be sure, however, that you keep things focused on social media/ digital business. It certainly has some elements in it, but strays a bit from the digital focus. In situations like these, you’ll just want to make the connection more explicit in the future.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this! I am definitely a loyal follower of the PSL frenzy, and there’s definitely a lot to be said about the success of this particular drink. I think part of the draw to PSL is the small window in which Starbucks serves them. Normally, I think we’d assume that Starbucks would keep such a popular drink on the menu all year round. However, I think it’s their ability to market the PSL as a seasonal product that makes it so appealing. Like you said, so many people are infatuated with everything that signifies the Fall, and it’s interesting to see how a Starbucks drink makes it’s way into this segment. I would love to hear your thoughts on other products that can attribute their success to marketing on a season. What’s are the PSL’s of Spring, Summer, and Winter?

    1. I agree that the small window of time during which Starbucks serves each of its seasonal drinks is what makes them so popular and key to continuing the PSL frenzy every year. The Peppermint Mocha and the Egg Nog Latte were actually the original holiday drinks that prompted Starbucks drink developers to introduce special drinks into the fall season. Most recently, Starbucks introduced the Sangria herbal tea in an effort to cater to summer seasonal tastes. This past spring, Starbucks released the Caramelized Honey Latte to celebrate the change in seasons. Who knows what they’ll do next!

  3. gabcandelieri · ·

    I am definitely a fan of the PSL! The seasonality of the beverage definitely gives the Starbucks brand an edge over the competition, but why do you think Starbucks is more successful than say Dunkin’ Donuts’ seasonal salted caramel or pumpkin flavors? What gives Starbucks in particular the ability to trigger a large Twitter and Facebook following? Do more people simply have a brand affinity for Starbucks, or is Starbucks reaching out in a way to millennials that Dunkin’ Donuts is not?

  4. I really enjoyed reading this! Your writing has a great, natural flow to it so it was a nice transition from your list of things you like about fall to how brands align themselves with the seasons. I haven’t read The Skimm in several months so I did not see the article that was sponsored by UGG, so I really enjoyed reading about that and your take on it, too. It’s very true what you mentioned about the Pumpkin Spice Latte having gained such fame on social media. There is no doubt about it that Starbucks has done an excellent job with its marketing, as “PSL” is now an acronym that is familiar to the masses. It would be great if you could do a similar post when we reach the winter at the end of the semester to cap it off!

  5. emmaharney21 · ·

    Engaging post! I think that this gets at the larger concept of how social media can enhance marketing trends. I really like how you focused on Starbucks as a company that takes advantage of seasonal marketing. Without social media I doubt fall seasonal marketing would be as effective. We can also think about this for how companies shift their branding during the holidays. I especially like how you mentioned Thanksgiving. Black Friday is a great example of how social media can enhance seasonal marketing. I thought your post was engaging and was focused around an interest example of PSL.

  6. Though I am not a fan of the PSL myself, I have to respect the massive sales spike that surrounds it. It is interesting how we have begun to categorize “fall” by a flavor, and companies have certainly leveraged this to their advantage. Many food or drink brands have created pumpkin products to piggyback off of the PSL trend–I think I’ve even seen pumpkin tortilla chips lining the shelves as of late! Promotions of the pumpkin craze are all over social media, especially Instagram, as the application has that slightly younger user base that companies are attempting to target. I think it helps that fall is so aesthetically pleasing, as tossing a warm cup of coffee in front of a fiery orange-leafed tree is a layup for a “like”. There is additional company benefit in the UGC constantly created with the PSL trend, as customers love to display their participation in the limited trend. I am curious to see if the “pumpkin-flavored-everything” fall trend has longevity, or if the fad will fade out in the next few years. Nice post, thanks for an enjoyable read!

  7. jagpalsingh03 · ·

    I’m a pretty big PSL and general pumpkin flavored things fan too! I definitely think it’s interesting how Starbucks has essentially branded a portion of the year. I think the fact that the Starbucks name is bigger than just coffee (similar to how the Apple name is more than just tech) helps them really leave their imprint on the fall. Not many companies can say they own a time of the year, other than the NFL on Sundays or Disney possibly with December thanks to a new Star Wars movie annually. I wonder where things will go from here though. With seemingly every food having some pumpkin version, will we reach a tipping point from pumpkin/marketing saturation where people are put off by the branding? If that happens, does that mean that people will no longer associate fall with Starbucks or that they will just no longer order PSLs?

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