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Pumpkin Spice Latte: Creating Product Demand

 Just a simple seasonal delight

Ah, Fall! The season of colorful leaves, cooling evenings, long walks in the woods and …pumpkin spice! Yes, it’s that time of year when devotees of the all-consuming fall flavor go on overdrive searching for their next fix. Why all this rabid fandom for a little cinnamon, cloves and pumpkin? And how did it become the fall cult classic flavor to rival candy corn? Starbucks introduced the #PSL (as it is frequently hash tagged) many years ago. As noted on,
“Since the Pumpkin Spice latte’s inception … years ago, customers have ordered … million(s), each topped with whipped cream and a parting shake of spices. It arrives while the summer sun still beats down hot over most of the country, but a combination of masterful marketing and a fan base with the kind of obsession usually reserved for pop stars has transformed this drink into a national harbinger of fall.”

Rabid fandom aside, what makes a product so beloved and craved?

In the case of this treat, its seasonality and limited appearance — similar to other mass market seasonal products like McRib, McDonalds imitation barbecue rib sandwich which pops up in markets from time to time — are what drive anticipation. In a word, rarity drives desire.  

When a product is only available for a limited time, there is incentive to buy now.

Despite the current level of ubiquitousness, Pumpkin Spice is still with us. Some argue that it is now “basic” and not special. They might posit there is no longer a cult of suburban white moms craving and driving the wave of consumerism that was behind #PSL in 2014. What there still is, is a longing at hold on our senses. Also at work in the adoration of pumpkin spice latte is its sensual hold on our psyches. No, I’m not talking about silk sheets and body oil type of sensuality, but its literal appeal to our cultural nostalgia. The odor of cinnamon is linked with baking, is linked with home, is linked with love is linked with belonging. And each of us want to be loved and to belong. It’s a fundamental need. Starbucks deliberately tapped into our needs.

Scent and tribal association mixed in one beverage

Buying pumpkin spice lattes could indicate our belongingness to our tribe. In the case of #PSL, that might be the tribe of white girls, but comedian Jay Pharoah mocks that in his ribald, hilarious send up of the drink. Pumpkin Spice Funny Video In the case of cinnamon, there may even be a powerful physiological response to the spice as it has antibiotic and potentially curative properties.

As entrepreneurs, we can learn from these observations when creating new products.

  1. Create a product that is amazing. Normal run of the mill products just don’t attract fans. Whether it tastes good, feels amazing, or is simply drop dead gorgeous or fulfills a strong need, as long as it is perceived as incredible, you will achieve demand. There’s no getting around this.
  2. Tap into powerful psychological needs.
  3. Limit your product’s availability and provide mental or market incentives to buy now.
What other products do you know of which have similar limited seasonality and rabid fandom? Why do you think they are much beloved? In the meantime, enjoy an array of pumpkin spice tweets.
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