On brew this week . . . the PSL. If you’re like me and Starbucks is part of your morning routine, you’ll know immediately that PSL stands for that coveted fall favorite, Pumpkin Spice Latte. That’s right, yesterday marked the autumnal return of Starbucks’ signature drink. It can be a polarizing flavor, but you cannot deny it still has popularity almost twenty years since its release date.
For inquiring minds, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is a coffee drink with warm flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and of course a hint of pumpkin. After finding success with other seasonal drinks like the Peppermint Mocha and Eggnog Latte, coffee giant Starbucks launched the drink in January of 2003. According to Wikipedia (yes, the PSL has its own Wikipedia page), “Starbucks sold more than 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes between its launch and 2013, generating revenue at a rate of at least $80 million a year in some seasons.” That’s a lot of coffee.
Perhaps the overnight success of the Pumpkin Spice Latte can be attributed to the LTO or Limited Time Offering of the drink. The scarcity of the PSL makes it that much more desired by fans once fall hits. After all, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder? By making the PSL available only in the fall months, Starbucks gives guests the feeling they’re attaining something exclusive and exciting when it finally hits the market.
Take McDonald’s McRib as another example. Using language like “Get a McRib before it’s too late,” the burger giant inconsistently and intermittently offers the McRib with the most recent national dry spell lasting from 2012 until 2020. Although McDonald’s has been tight lipped about their strategy, marketing experts theorize that the McRib comes and goes just like the consumer’s appeal for the sandwich wanes: sales diminish the longer the product stays on the menu. So, offering the McRib intermittently builds excitement for the fans and the sandwich disappears before it can become mundane again.
It all goes back to the consumer’s perception that if they don’t buy it now, they may not be able to buy it tomorrow. It builds an innate sense of urgency with consumers and because they are afraid to miss out, they buy.
When you build your own brand and feature your own products, building a sense of exclusivity is a strategic play. Think about what makes your product exclusive and highlight those aspects in your marketing.
At the end of the day, we need to figure out what makes these products so irresistible to consumers. Is it really the fact that they are only available for a limited time? Is it a need to have something now that might quickly disappear? I would suggest that these products and brands are coveted and consumed because of good marketing, not because they’re a trendy, timely or valuable purchase. Consumers encounter an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day, so your marketing must be top-notch. Your challenge is to break through the noise of thousands of other commercials, social media posts, billboards and more. You have to think outside the box, get creative and come up with a message that resonates with your customers. Pay attention to what they pay attention to. Maybe you take a page from Starbucks and create a countdown to a product release. Maybe you imitate McDonald’s and bring back ‘retired’ items to delight loyal consumers. Your marketing plan must entice and excite your audience. Get them intrigued to see new products, impatient to wait and thirsty for more.