When this time of year rolls around, we are looking forward to the reprieve from the summer heat and welcome in crisp weather, sweaters, the holidays, and all the drinks and foods that come with the season.  And in our reflection during this time of the year, minds turn to family, friends, thankfulness, generosity; all welcomed hallmarks of the season.  But I want to take a little different path and not look at the magic of the season, but the magic behind one of the most famous (and at times infamous) LTO’s and why it became such a phenomenon of autumn.  You know exactly what I’m referring to, the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

PSLs are solidly in the maturity phase of the product life cycle, if not already in decline.  But there was a time when it was the new idea that took root and became a viral sensation.  Not that all products will have such an impact in market, but I can’t help but think, what were the ingredients that made this happen (besides pumpkin)?


Limiting Factor

It’s simple, we want what we can’t have. There’s a lot of power to limited time offers and limited editions and we see this in many industries.  But with an LTO (limited time offer) it isn’t just a product that is not always accessible, but the thought that it will be.  This is a great opportunity to increase sales with product but creates an opportunity for marketing outreach with a campaign tied to the LTO and another reason to revisit and create touchpoints in the market.



Seasonality of produce lends itself nicely to the psychological phenomenon of a limited product. In the past we saw more seasonality in our food before advances in supply chain.  Now we have access to an abundance of fresh items all year.  There are still a few items that are seasonal or have a greater availability during their seasons. Pumpkin is one that is still somewhat sacred in its seasonality, which I think is a big contributing factor to the success of PSL.


Nostalgia / Culture

Building on LTO and seasonality, we layer on nostalgia with the beginning of the holiday season. Our culture in particular kicks folklore, family, celebration into high gear at this point, all of us primed to embrace all things comforting and cozy– the time we collectively take a step back and focus on tradition and connection to our cultures and loved ones as the weather cools. Add in the memories that are associated to spice and the seasonality of pumpkin, and that PSL is looking more and more like a marketing time bomb!


Simplicity in the Name

Sometimes I think marketers are a little bit too clever for our own good.  I am guilty.  One of the great ad men, David Ogilvy, stated over and over to speak plainly. And granted, the pumpkin spice latte’s name gets right to the point. But a cool acronym like PSL became a well-known and used moniker in its own rite, still getting the point of the item, but with that billion dollar nickname.


Amplified by a Strong Brand

And with all these factors, a product launched by a company already established with a solid foundation with their brand certainly didn’t hurt. Starbucks had a ready market for the PSL with all the magic of seasonality and an LTO, and the PSL amplified their brand following.  It’s a little bit circular, but only in the best ways for a business.

As we approach the holidays, let the PSL be an iconic reminder of a few areas of value that you can bring customers with your product or service.  From the perception of limited availability and seasonality, the simplicity of a name that gets to the point, the nostalgia and emotion of the holidays, these were a few of the ingredients that a well-known company took, mixed with a little pumpkin, to greatly augment their brand.  And if you’ve ordered a PSL for yourself, you can imagine what all these shots of value did for their bottom line.