bing code

August 25, 2014

It’s Back: The Allure of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

Author: Valerie Baker

Ask any of my friends, family members, or coworkers what my favorite time of year is.  (I’ll wait here.)

It’s fall! Since I live in Southwest Florida, the fall season is not about falling leaves or cooler weather. For me, autumn is about 3 things:

  1. The holidays are coming.
  2. Black Friday is coming.
  3. Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is coming.

I recently read that the PSL is coming back early and Starbucks addicts everywhere are rejoicing – myself included. As ridiculous as it is to get excited over a seasonal coffee drink, I’m not the only one.

Personifying the Pumpkin Spice

Over the years, Starbucks has mastered the art of creating a cult following for the Pumpkin Spice Latte. With the rise in hashtag-based social media marketing (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), Starbucks has been able to further cultivate this group of people into becoming full-blown product advocates.

The 2014 PSL season has kicked off a bit differently than in the past. In previous years, I remember hearing about the annual debut through a TV commercial. Now, the first place I saw it was on Twitter – from @TheRealPSL. That’s right. Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has its very own Twitter account.

Social Media Marketing Done Right

Using Promoted Tweets, Facebook Advertising, and overall posts, the Real PSL has managed to garner almost 75,000 followers. Starbucks has also clearly cleverly staffed the person/people writing those tweets. Through references to common Internet terms such as “YASSSSS” (this means to be very excited about something in case you were wondering) and creative imagery, it’s crystal clear whom Starbucks is targeting: teens and young adults.

In addition to the promoted messages, the Real PSL has also offered fans the opportunity to get their hands on the Pumpkin Spice Latte a week before the official release. Through spotting clues and unlocking others, users have had the chance to unlock a secret code that would allow them to visit a local Starbucks store, provide a code, and receive their first PSL of the season.

Using Exclusivity & Interactiveness in Marketing

The PSL secret code is not the only tactic Starbucks uses to make fans feel “special.” Starbucks has created a rewards program meant for people like me who are big advocates of their brand. The Starbucks Gold Card is the top level you can reach, and once you’re there, you have access to rewards that include free refills, occasional free drinks, and more. By offering incentives to your brand followers and making them feel like they’re a part of an exclusive group, you can turn those followers into advocates for your brand/product.

Immediately after posting this blog, I took to Twitter to share. Typically, when I tag a company or celebrity in a tweet, I expect no reply. However, as I mentioned before, Starbucks has definitely chosen the correct team to run the PSL Twitter account. Within a couple hours, I had a shoutout from @TheRealPSL.


Other companies and brands can learn a lot about being interactive with fans, customers, and clients. By showing that you’re paying attention – and by simply replying – you can further enhance the relationship your followers have with you.

The Business of it All

Today marks the day when PSL fans can march into their local Starbucks with the “secret code” and begin drinking the first of many Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the season. What’s stopping someone like me from sharing that code on the Internet to the world? Nothing. Does Starbucks care? Probably not.

“The code is “First PSL”. Story over…Now get in there and spend lots of money on coffee.”

Starbucks’ goal was not to give fans special access to the PSL before everyone else. The goal was to get PSL advocates – myself included – out buying the Pumpkin Spice Latte and spreading the word (get ready for overly filtered images and #PSL in your Instagram feeds). Since its debut 11 years ago, Starbucks has sold over 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes. At around $3.00 per cup, I’d say that Starbucks knows what they’re doing.

As a marketer, knowing who your target market is and the best way to communicate with them are two of the best (and most profitable) things you can do. Just ask Starbucks.

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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