As you may have read on the internet — especially if you’re as coffee-obsessed as I am — the Pumpkin Spice Latte is coming back early this year. Here’s the dates: Official launch is September 2nd. However, through a series of “challenges” on social media, people can “unlock” the PSL at their local Starbucks as early as August 25.
The PSL is traditionally a fall drink, which has some people crying foul at the early release. After all, it’s still August and already we have Halloween candy going on sale, and even some Christmas merch appearing in stores. The tendency in retail is to draw out lucrative seasonal sales as long as possible in the hopes of drawing in more money.
On the flip side, however, drinks that evoke a certain season might reasonably be marketed during a time when people are preparing for that season. Like the first turning of the leaves (if you live in a place where leaves turn, which I don’t), the PSL could be considered as much a sign that fall is coming, as a sign that fall is actually hear. I think that’s the feeling that Starbucks is trying to get in on — a seasonal drink as a sign that the season is coming soon.
Last year, Starbucks realized the social media potential of this drink and pushed it hard on their Twitter account. This year they’re going even further, with a Twitter account specifically for the drink itself (@theRealPSL). The idea is that you follow this Twitter account, complete certain challenges by replying to it — today’s challenge was to find an ingredient on the Starbucks Instagram account — and eventually learn a “passcode” that you give at your local Starbucks to “unlock” the drink, allowing them to start selling it early.
Why go through all this just to sell a drink? Well, “social media engagement” is a big buzzword right now and Starbucks has jumped aboard that train with both feet. It can be an effective and inexpensive way to build buzz about a product, as well as getting immediate feedback on how well the campaign is going. And it’s working: mainstream media outlets are carrying the story. The return of a seasonal drink at a coffee restaurant is now “news”. You can buy billboards and TV ads, but here with a few minutes of typing every day they’ve gotten a crazy amount of publicity.
Of course, it’s a little hypocritical for me to scrutinize their methods. After all, here I am, writing about both the drink and the social media campaign. Just like I wrote with excitement about the coming of the Fizzio sodas and the new shaken teas (all five of those reviews are still among the highest-viewed pages on this site). So if it’s a problem, I’m part of the problem. If it’s a trend, I’m part of the trend. In my defense, I try to be as informational as I can.
Will I be trying to get my Starbucks to sell the Pumpkin Spice Latte early? Probably, I love those things.