Branding pumpkin spice and everything nice

When Starbucks announced the seasonal return of its wildly popular pumpkin spice latte earlier this week, the news spread like wildfire. From Fox News to the Huffington Post, the release of the iconic fall drink was widely broadcast.

Unlike Starbucks, I am not so quick to welcome the fall. After a long, cold winter and an unusually temperate summer, digging out my sweaters again is not a personal priority. Despite these reservations, the thought of the pumpkin spice latte is appealing even though, I realize on reflection that I’ve never actually tried the drink.

Pause. What is it about Starbucks’ branding of the pumpkin spice latte that gives me this warm, fuzzy sensation without any tangible attachment to it?

Perhaps more than the taste of the beverage itself, which I can’t speak to, I’m attracted to the imagery of fall that it conjures in my mind.

Yet, the “PSL,” as it has been affectionately dubbed, is about more than just the fall flavor profile. The PSL has its own Twitter account rife with clever and engaging tidbits. For the fourth year in a row, its early release is available only to those who complete an online scavenger hunt and divulge a secret code when ordering. And, let’s not forget, the price alone warrants an above-average coffee experience.

Simply put, the pumpkin spice latte is one extraordinary marketing infusion. And that’s exactly what they want you to think.

For Starbucks, exclusivity, luxury, and lifestyle improvement are at the heart of the brand. While the coffee giant historically has eschewed the traditional advertising channels and catchy taglines of its donut-dunking competitor, Starbucks has built its brand on PSL psychology with a dash of social media magic.

The Starbucks brand is clearly a unique one, and the pumpkin spice latte is emblematic of its overall success. Couple the drink with seasonal appeal, and you’ve created a product whose yearly release will garner more press than the president’s latest speech.

It may still be August, but Starbucks has bestowed the gift of fall upon a lucky few. You can have the pumpkin spice, but prepare to pay for the “everything nice” as well.

Photo courtesy of vorakorn/

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