A Pumpkin Spice PSA: Why Out-Of-Season Promotions Pay Off

First, it was the holiday creep. Christmas decorations in September are now the norm. But pumpkin spice lattes in August? That’s a promotion that might put a bad flavor in customer’s mouths. 

Last week, Dunkin’, the coffee shop formerly known and Dunkin’ Donuts, surprised the world by rolling out their pumpkin spice menu in mid-August. A disclaimer: I love pumpkin spice. Love it. If you put pumpkin in something, I will eat that thing. But I’m not an animal. I have limits and, like most adults, a calendar. While the PSL move might provide some buzz, it may not be as successful as it would have been if Dunkin’ had held its proverbial horses. 

The key to seasonal promotions is that they are in the right season. By inching the start line forward a week every year, it weakens the effect of a campaign by taking away the incentives and the emotions around the product. All season campaigns are built on association, even if those associations exist primarily in our heads and in the media. You can drink eggnog year-round, but do you? No, because it goes with thick sweaters

, holiday parties, and a very specific season. Also, because eggnog is disgusting. It may seem like a massive blunder. 

Dunkin’s move started an arms race. Today, Starbucks hinted that it would have PSL in stores August 25, making it the earliest debut in history for the coffee giant. It’s not just coffee shops, either. Pillsbury will be shipping its pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls this week as well. Even a diehard like myself will tell you; customers can’t have that much interest in a piping hot PSL as the temperatures tickle ninety degrees this week. 

So why do companies engage in this sort of season creep? The press. There are tens of thousands of articles currently flashing headlines featuring a mix of horror, outrage, and numbness (thanks, coronavirus). The clicks are insane, plus millions of Americans just remembered they haven’t been to Starbucks in weeks or Dunkin’ in, if we’re honest, probably a decade. 

It might just work. 

So, have your say. When is the appropriate time to debut pumpkin spice lattes and break out the cardigans?