The inside story of the (very early) return of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

The chain shares the comms strategy behind the beloved beverage’s comeback.

SEATTLE: Starbucks literally couldn’t wait for its Pumpkin Spice Latte to return this year, bringing the popular fall drink back earlier than ever before since it debuted in 2003. 

Reflecting on the PSL’s 17-year-run, a Starbucks spokesperson told PRWeek that consumers’ love for pumpkin and the flavors of fall have been growing year after year.

Starbucks brought the PSL and its full fall menu back on Tuesday. But planning for the seasonal promotion, under the leadership of Starbucks CMO Brady Brewer, started one year ago.

The return date varies from year to year and is also set far in advance of the launch, a company spokesperson said. 

Asked if the COVID-19 pandemic has altered Starbucks’ launch plans for the beloved beverage, a spokesperson explained the top priority has been creating a “safe and welcoming environment” for consumers. Starbucks locations have adopted safety protocols, such as a heightened emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing and requiring all customers to wear facial coverings while visiting U.S. stores.

To celebrate the PSL’s return and its 2020 fall menu, the company employed a mix of marketing and earned media tactics, including the Starbucks 1-833-GET-FALL hotline, which was developed by marketing agency Big Spaceship and launched on August 24.

“The hotline was inspired by customers’ love for the sounds and flavors of fall and promoted with posts across Starbucks Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels,” a brand spokesperson said. “To build anticipation, the hotline was teased the day before its debut in the Leaf Raker’s Society, the perfect online Facebook group to celebrate all things fall year-round.”

Additionally, Starbucks’ in-house PR team and Edelman co-created an earned media strategy to build excitement for the upcoming launch and further raise awareness of the arrival of the coffee shop’s fall menu. 

“Knowing that speculation about the arrival date of the PSL and customer demand for fall-inspired products begins in early August, we announced the return of fall flavors in grocery on August 4,” the spokesperson said.

Three weeks later, after continued speculation from media and customers about the official launch date of the PSL in retail stores, Starbucks confirmed the return date and details of the fall menu to business and consumer/lifestyle media, as well as national and local broadcast outlets on August 25, when the menu was available for customers.

The news was shared with media and customers through one-to-one media relationships, Starbucks news and content hub Starbucks Stories and through its owned social media channels.

“As a result of this month-long effort, we’ve seen strong media coverage and customer excitement throughout the month, celebrating the return of fall grocery products, the Starbucks hotline and now the return of the fall menu,” the spokesperson said.

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