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Pumpkin Spice Lattes and the Mysteries of Missing Consumer Conversations

MarTech » Data » Pumpkin Spice Latte and the Mystery of Missing Consumer Conversations

Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) is a marketer’s dream come true. Launched by Starbucks in 2003, it has become a cultural icon, created a new segment of consumer products, and, oh yes, generated about $2,000,000,000 in sales for the company. It also provides an important lesson for analyzing data you don’t see.

Cultural icons.

Part of the success is due to limited availability. It’s a seasonal drink, and every year PSL’s release day has become the unofficial first day of fall. It’s so ingrained in American pop culture that it’s still true even though it’s almost always before Labor Day (this year it’s August 30).

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Of course, other coffee Sellers also make their own versions. You can now buy pumpkin spice from big chains like Dunkin Donuts and 7-Eleven to a nearby coffee shop. Last year, despite the pandemic, Starbucks’ weekly sales rose 10% year over year after adding PSL to the menu on Aug. 27. Duncan, which typically grows 3 percent, grew just 1 percent last year.

Pumpkin Spice Products.

The appeal of pumpkin spice has spread to other products.

In 2019, consumers spent approximately $600 million on pumpkin spice products in the U.S. alone, according to Forbes. This year’s harvest includes Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Spice CBD Gummies, Glade Spray Pumpkin Spice Things Up, Original Pumpkin Spice Latte Deodorant, Pringles, Cedar Hummus and Pumpkin Spice Nissin Cup Noodles.

What does this have to do with martech. Pumpkin spice is epidemic-proof, according to Christopher Payne, co-founder and chief data strategist at marketing data and analytics provider Trust Insights. In October 2020 — the peak of the blockade — search interest in it was higher than the year before, he blogged.

He looked at this year’s data to see which phrases had the biggest year-over-year increases. “Dunkin Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew” topped the list, followed by: “pumpkin spice latte squishmallow”. Perhaps even more surprising is that it has been No. 1 for the first four years.

“For those unfamiliar (we had to look it up) squishmallows is a stuffed animal filled with memory foam, giving it a different texture and weight,” he wrote. “It’s especially noteworthy that this item is completely sold out at retailers. This brings us to a second interesting phenomenon that deserves further study.”

Then he used the Talkwalker monitoring service and found that the same phrase social media channels hardly existed in public. How can it be so popular and unpopular?

“The answer is that discussions about products take place elsewhere, in non-public spaces,” he wrote. He found that discussions take place on Discord servers, where the fan community informs each other when and where squishmallow can be obtained.

Why do we care.

A lot of public online conversations take place in less public places. Places like Slack, Discord, and Telegram. These private social media communities can have a significant impact on sales. Marketers cannot ignore them.

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About the author

Constance Constantine von Hoffman is the executive editor of MarTech. A veteran reporter, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and technology for, Brandweek, CMOs and Inc. He has served as a city editor for the Boston Herald, a news producer for NPR, and has written for Boston’s Harvard Business Review Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He is also a professional stand-up comedian, speaking at anime and gaming conventions on topics ranging from Totoro to the history of dice and board games, and is the author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Apocalypse. He lives in Boston with his wife Jennifer and too many or too few dogs.



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