In Branding, Campaigns, Content, Digital Marketing, Digital News by Kevin Fullerton


Pumpkin spice lattes – the festive sugary drink that went global

You’re jacked up on sugar like a five-year-old at a birthday party. Your heart is palpitating from caffeine and your stomach is working overtime to process industrial helpings of whipped cream.

You’ve purchased your first pumpkin spice latte, Starbucks’s seasonal drink of choice – and, like millions of people who’ve taken the plunge, your taste buds have changed forever.

Swathes of the Twitterati count down to #pumpkinspicelatte season like it was Christmas Day, their faces peering into the frosted shop windows of Starbucks like Little Timmy staring at a delicious turkey, saliva dribbling from their chins like a Labrador gawking at you while you eat your tea.

That dog analogy is a great way to understand the appeal of the seasonal latte – because of their limited release we spring into action like Pavlov’s dogs whenever they’re put on sale.

Lifestyle branding

Starbucks have always been experts in niche marketing. In the 90s, their products were lent an air of exclusivity thanks to the regal looking design of their logo, the warm mahogany of their interiors and the Italian phrasing used to describe the size of their cups.

It’s strange to think that asking for a Venti Frappucino was viewed as a little pretentious only a decade ago, but this is the world that Starbucks created.

When you purchased a Starbucks coffee you were buying into a lifestyle, one where you worked on your new novel in public or socialised with friends over an Americano.

Diversifying your brand

As Starbucks has become a part of the fabric of consumerism and independent coffee shops have taken over the mantle of respectability, they’ve had to diversify their product line to maintain relevance.

Seasonal lines are an ideal way to do this. By limiting the amount of time you have to try a product, you’ll be far more likely to part with your cash within the immediate future.

It’s why Disney DVDs still sell at a premium, why Black Friday causes people to stampede through the doors of their local supermarket at 6am, and why you’ve stocked up on Creme Eggs midway through April to tide you over until next year.

In doing this, Starbucks and many other brands give their customers an extra endorphin rush with their purchase.

Like the guy on eBay who’s just made a successful bid for the only original Luke Skywalker action figurine in existence, the limited nature of your purchase makes you feel as though you’re part of an exclusive club.

Capturing this feeling of exclusivity in marketing for brands which are entirely affordable takes a deft touch…

…so how do Starbucks make their pumpkin spice lattes feel exclusive?

  • Make the packaging appealing – your latte isn’t served in a standard Starbucks mug. Instead you’ll receive special festive-themed packaging designed for the product you purchase. Not only does this add a Christmas feel to the Starbucks logo – it also reminds you that your drink is limited edition.
  • They understand social media – like the excitement conjured by the Coca Cola truck, the Starbucks social media push for #PumpkinSpiceLatte season has become a staple of the year.
  • They’ve repeated the trick – the pumpkin spice latte was a novelty on its initial release. But now that they’ve promoted it year-on-year, we’ve built a natural association with it and the festive season. Its heady mixture of sugar and caffeine tastes like Christmas, reinforcing the idea that you have to try it.

There’s a lot to unpack about the Starbucks brand, but their commitment to making relatively cheap items feel like they’re part of a wider lifestyle choice is their most impressive.

So maybe holding your product out of reach a few times a year could be an important part of your marketing strategy — absence makes the heart grow fonder.

For more Christmas content & the chance to win some prizes take a look at our 2017 Advent Calendar.

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