Pumpkin spice makes everything nice

In 2003, Starbucks was looking to expand its collection of winter-themed drinks. It experimented with a drink it called the Pumpkin Spice Latte, commonly known as the PSL, and saw instant success. The drink quickly became Starbucks’ most popular seasonal beverage.

The iconic beverage even boasts a certified twitter account.

After the inception of the PSL, pumpkin spice transformed from a flavour into an industry. In 2015, Forbes estimated the revenue from pumpkin spice flavoured food and drinks to be around $500 million.

The appearance of pumpkin spice flavoured goods signals the beginning of fall for many.

“It just kind of has a feel good vibe to it,” says Junko Belcourt, a pumpkin spice consumer.

Marketing manager Matthew Shirley explains that since the pumpkin spice latte is globally recognized as a cozy autumn treat, people such as Belcourt tend to associate pumpkin spice with a feeling of comfort and warmth.

In recent years, pumpkin spice has gone beyond food and beverage flavouring. The upward trend in fall-flavoured food and beverage sales has attracted other markets.

Tangerine bank sponsored Facebook ad.

WestJet introduced a Pumpkin spice sale with the slogan, “Pumpkin spice savings you’re sure to love a latte.”

The sale was brief and tickets had to be booked by Oct. 26, as it was a fall-themed sale. It is now gone from their website. Competitor Air Canada was having a similar sale at the time but the focus was on WestJet’s pumpkin spice sale and their targeted Facebook advertisements.

WestJet Pumpkin spice seat sale advertised on a sponsored Facebook post.

Another market to join the pumpkin spice movement is banks. Tangerine bank sponsored an ad on Facebook for a no-fee chequing account, using a pumpkin coffee beverage as the ad’s photo. The message suggested that money saved through the no-fee chequing account could be used to purchase more pumpkin drinks.

Shirley sees the use of pumpkin spice in advertising as a way of targeting people’s emotions.

“Thanksgiving is a holiday that involves pumpkins, as well as family time. Families get together around this time of the year,” Shirley said, explaining why people are likely to buy plane tickets because of a pumpkin spice sale.

He points out that if someone had chosen not to go home for the holidays but saw a sale that triggered feelings of warmth and thoughts of family, they are more likely to buy the ticket to satisfy these feelings. Airlines are likely to raise prices during holidays, making some people reluctant to buy tickets. By advertising a sale that triggers positive emotions, ticket sales may go up.

Companies using pumpkin spice flavour, smell, and imagery as a branding tactic are targeting consumers desire for comfort during the colder and lonelier months.

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