Pumpkin Spice Marketing

by Ian Doescher


Pivot Group - Pumpkin Spice

Pumpkins are big in the fall, and of course there’s a double meaning in that. It’s easy to think that Starbucks was the first to make pumpkin popular in the fall, which is almost when I started to write, except that of course pumpkins become ripe in the fall. Mother Nature started this trend, not Starbucks. That said, we may have Starbucks to thank for the popularity and ubiquity of pumpkin spice products every fall. The picture above shows the influence this trend has on the average American family (assuming, of course, that my family is average). When I thought about taking this picture for this blog post, I only remembered two or three pumpkin products we had bought. But when I look at our cupboards, I found much more — and there were more products, like harvest salsa, that fit the trend but didn’t make the picture. My point is simply this: pumpkin is everywhere this time of year, and particularly foods and drinks flavored with “pumpkin spice.” Even most independent coffee shops have followed the Starbucks trend, offering some sort of pumpkin drink this time of year. One last point I find interesting: even my friends on Facebook who are posting their negative thoughts about the trend, like “I’m already DONE with pumpkin spice!”, are contributing to the hoopla; as P.T. Barnum is purported to have said, “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.”

There are a few things I think we, as marketers, can learn from the pumpkin spice trend:

  1. Scarcity is abundance: despite the enormous popularity of pumpkin spice products in the fall, most coffee shops, restaurants and retailers will take these products off the shelf by December 1. There is good reason for this. Come late summer, Starbucks has people begging for pumpkin spice to appear, desperate for the fall flavor they love so much. Could they sell pumpkin spice year round? Of course. But they don’t, because they know it’s more special, more sought out, more marketable since it only comes around a couple months each year. Most other businesses that feature pumpkin products have done the same. If you have a special product or service, particularly if it is a seasonal favorite in some way, don’t feel like you have to offer it all the time. Increased demand may drive customer loyalty: they’ll be back for more next year.
  2. Variations on a theme: I am amazed by the number of new pumpkin products that appear each year. The pumpkin Joe-Joes that Trader Joe’s is offering are new this year, and of course they are crazy delicious. When my wife bought them, I asked her why she would do that to me and my diet. I feel certain pumpkin Joe-Joes are here to stay, a new standard feature of Trader Joe’s’ fall products. Restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores are able to sell more and more pumpkin/pumpkin spice products this time of year because the concept has become wildly popular. There are any number of variations on the theme of pumpkin spice you can find this time of year. Pumpkin ice cream? Got it. Pumpkin cookies? Of course. Pumpkin soup? You bet. Pumpkin flavored macaroni and cheese? Well, okay, I haven’t seen that when yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time. If you have a popular product or service, how can you vary it to keep your customers’ excitement for it fresh?
  3. Go with the season: is there a big cultural event happening? Something pretty much everybody knows about? Although seasonal marketing can seem tedious (do we REALLY have to come up with another holiday theme?!), it can be effective because people are already predisposed to certain themes, flavors and ideas. Pumpkins go with fall like peanut butter goes with jelly. If you can shape your products or services to fit the season, you will grab hold of cultural forces that are already stronger than something you can create on your own.

So, go forth and do some spicy marketing. Oh, and if you’re not going to eat that last pumpkin Joe-Joe, can I have it?

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