Pumpkin spice lattes and the power of good branding.

Every Fall, the shelves of just about every grocery store are lined with pumpkin spice-themed products, from latte mixes to air fresheners to lotions and far beyond. Pumpkin pie spice, as it was originally called, was meant for pie and pie alone. It’s association with Fall comes from the season of the harvest, when pumpkins are in high demand and being cooked into a plethora of delicious dishes around the country. 

But now-a-days, when you hear the new evolution of its name – pumpkin spice – what comes to mind?

Probably Starbucks. 

When this multi-billion dollar company began incorporating the pumpkin spice flavor (a simple blend of allspice, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) into its coffees, it took off like wildfire.

The latte was in high demand, and it has weathered criticism to remain the chain’s top-selling seasonal beverage of all time with more than 350 million sold to date”, explains Jill Waldbieser with CookingLight. 

The question remains though…how did it become so popular? What magic did Starbucks brew up to ignite the rapid, exponential growth of a pretty mediocre flavor in an enormous coffee-drinking market?

It can be argued that what it really comes down to is the fact that the pumpkin spice latte is only offered during a short period of time during the year. Creating a sense of scarcity or “time running out” is a popular marketing tactic that businesses use to drive sales…and it works! The pumpkin spice serves as a way for people to celebrate the Fall, popularly symbolized by pumpkins, in a cup of America’s fuel…coffee. It’s genius if you really think about it. 

“Pumpkin spice has become something much bigger than a flavor concocted in a Seattle lab; it’s now a season, a symbol, a lifestyle, a meme.” -Alida Barden, BuzzFeed

While brainstorming about which product would sell best, Starbucks considered what people would want to buy year after year without growing tired of it. 

Pumpkin Spice was the answer. Why? Because the smell of pumpkin pie tends to evoke nostalgia that makes people feel safe, comfortable and happy. It brings about feelings of the holiday season, crackling warm fireplaces, and joyful memories with friends and family. Who doesn’t want that? Starbucks marketed this product so well, that people weren’t just buying it for the flavor, but for the experience that it provided. 

Ultimately, Starbucks’ monumental success came down to psychology and an understanding human emotions…and this will continue to be one of the most important factors in marketing far into the future.

What can you as a business owner learn from this? How can you generate excitement in your customers for your products or services? What is your version of the “PSL”? Need ideas? Work with the experts at Kudzu Brands! We have been helping businesses through every season since 2010.