Pumpkin Everything: Creative Seasonal Marketing Or Overdone Trend?

In the spirit of brands getting an early start on the holidays, Starbucks released their popular Pumpkin Spice Latte (aka, the PSL) on August 28 – its earliest official launch date in latte history. This caffeinated drink kicked off the pumpkin spice craze in 2011, creating a popular seasonal marketing opportunity for companies hoping to take a creative spin on products and boost sales for the fall season. I admit it… I too am all in on the pumpkin spice trend and enjoy my PSL iced and grande size. Shortly after the PSL was launched for public consumption, pumpkin spice products started popping up throughout September. Then I saw Mrs. Meyers Pumpkin Spice dish soap on display at Target and wondered, how far is too far with seasonal trends?

Products that have been spiced with pumpkin include everything from ice cream to beer, to granola and chips. There’s also been pumpkin spice spins on classics such as Cheerios and Oreos, as well as snacks such as Cliff Bars and GoGoSqueez pumpkin spice flavored apple sauce for the kids. Pumpkin spice goes beyond food and drinks too – soaps, lotions and candles have all been laced with the popular squash. That is an overwhelming amount of pumpkin choices, even for the fall fanatic. With all these products on the shelves before we even get close to Halloween and Thanksgiving, is it possible that audiences can get pumpkined out? When is a seasonal trend creative, and when does it go too far?

Brands need to seriously consider the pros and cons of a seasonal trends. In this case, is the demand for pumpkin spice products really so high that it is worth investing in exploring the flavor, creating a new product and producing something that will be on shelves for a few months? Seasonal marketing could help boost sales by drawing attention to your brand with a new product during a specific timeframe. It also might fall flat, blending in with the rest of the brands following that same trend. Will the product be considered a gimmick or creative? Below are some questions to ask when you are considering a seasonal marketing opportunity.

  1. What else is out there? Conduct an audit of the seasonal items being released and what other brands are doing creatively. As we can see with pumpkin spice products, the market is simply becoming saturated and the consumer already has an excessive amount of choices. Some of them good, some of them bad. Some will sell, others will not.
  2. How will your audience respond? Starbucks knows their audience well, and understand their audience enjoys seasonal and specialty lattes. It’s engrained in the Starbucks culture. Does your audience enjoy trends? Are your consumers interested in exploring variations of your product? Or, do they come to you for this specific product?
  3. Does this enhance our product? Does our product need to be altered or is already something that people know and love? Looking at you, Oreos. The old saying may be true for many brands, if it’s not broken, no need to add pumpkin spice.
  4. Can we do something different? If everyone else is on trend, perhaps there’s another way to stand out this season. This is a chance to think creatively and instead of aligning with everyone else – aim to start a new trend that will last another decade.

At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to take a creative risk. The pumpkin spice trend is just that, a trend. It’s just the beginning of the holiday season, with many opportunities in front of us to think creative about seasonal marketing opportunities. For now, let’s hold back on the pumpkin spice trend, and save room for the OG… pumpkin pie.

Rebecca Wrenn

Director of Client Services and Operations

Rebecca joined Sweeney in 2014 as an account executive and subsequently shifted roles in 2016 to support the agency leadership team in successfully establishing a highly effective, full-service creative capability, including branding, design, and video production services. In 2020, she pivoted once again to take on a senior account leadership role while simultaneously leading agency operations. With nearly a decade of strategic marketing, communications and creative experience, Rebecca currently directs several agency account teams, while also managing critical aspects of agency’s operations. Her deep knowledge of the account management process and her high creative aptitude are an exceptional benefit to the agency and its clients.