Oh my gourd: what’s the big deal with pumpkin spice?

Dear Blue,

Oh my gourd: what’s the big deal with pumpkin spice?


Peter, Peter Pumpkin Hater

Dear Peter,

It’s true—the pumpkin spice craze is back in full force, and it only gets bigger every year. When and how did this pumpkin spice phenomenon begin?

Image courtesy of Clean Plates.

Though pumpkin spice had already been around for years, Starbucks brought it to its ultimate form as a latte in 2003, and what began as a boardroom brainstorm boomed into something much bigger than itself. Although the launch was successful in sales, it wasn’t until the emergence of Facebook and Twitter in 2006 that Starbucks knew they had a cultural staple on their hands. Any guesses why?

Yep—we’ve got our virtual presence to thank for the return of the PSL year after year and what eventually became pumpkin spice everything. (Candles, baked goods, dog treats?!) Customers just couldn’t stop sharing and retweeting their love and excitement for the seasonal beverage. 

So now we know the backstory, but the question remains: how has the pumpkin spice latte held its popularity season after season? 

One word: Repetition. Make that two: repetition. (See what we did there?) Seeing something over and over again increases brand familiarity and thus, brand trust—unless, of course, it’s overdone, causing people (like you) to get burned out on it.

But here’s the thing: just because you’re seeing it everywhere doesn’t mean your neighbor is.

Repetition is a proven marketing strategy. Many are familiar with the notion that customers need to see your message a lucky seven times before they’ll purchase, and not every advertisement will reach every audience. So from a Starbucks standpoint, this is the right play.

In the case of the PSL, much of the media you see on Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook these days isn’t even coming from Starbucks’ marketing. Times haven’t changed much since 2003: people are posting about their love for the fall beverage organically, just because they love it—which is only, like, the number one thing every brand aspires to achieve.

First comes repetition, then comes:

Familiarity. You know it, you drink it, you (probably) love it. And if you don’t drink it, your friend does—and they’ve undoubtedly forced you to take sips of theirs. Nobody needs to explain what a PSL is to you, because you’ve seen it a thousand times. It’s the liquid equivalent of being famous.

But wait, there’s more: or is there? We’re talking scarcity.

Introducing a product as a limited-time or seasonal release is similar to a limited-time sale. Get it NOW!

The pumpkin spice latte is only available seasonally, causing a mini frenzy for everyone to get it while they still can. It’s kind of the same mindset as buying in bulk—we’ll be drinking one three times a week during fall because we drink zero of them during every other season. 

Bring back the favorite, with a plus one.

Every year, we see posts from virtually everyone we’ve ever known announcing pumpkin spice is back. And with it? Another exciting flavor—one we might like just as much. Or will we? There’s only one way to find out: purchase it.

This year we have the Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso and the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte. And although we have a feeling none will ever beat out the beloved PSL, the notion is exciting enough to cause a hype. 

You may not be the leader of the pumpkin spice fan club, but we know you have an equivalent in another season: maybe it’s watermelon. Maybe it’s a niche Trader Joe’s product. Whatever your seasonal guilty pleasure, it’s probably not as in-your-face as PSL—but that doesn’t mean you should be actively campaigning against it. Don’t like it? Don’t drink it.

But it’s Starbucks’ bread & butter—or should we say coffee & creamer—for a reason. They know their regulars will return year after year, and almost every local coffee shop has an equivalent version on their menu at this point. If they got rid of it, ride-or-die consumers would simply find it elsewhere. 

In fact, everyone would likely go on and on about how it’s gone, and you’d never hear the end of that either. So at this point, you might as well let people enjoy things, yeah?

You’re still our li’l pumpkin,


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