Is it the Pumpkin Spice… or Nostalgia?


Autumn brings a beautiful change in leaves, cooler temps — and most importantly, to a few million of us, pumpkin spice everything.

Annual sales of “pumpkin-flavored” products rose over 15% in 2018, setting an all-time high for the previous five years, according to Nielsen*. America’s love affair with pumpkin spice has truly reached new heights, being featured in products like sausage, candles, toothpaste, fish bait, hand sanitizer, and pet shampoo. Some of these products may seem bizarre, but the brands producing them have successfully garnered our attention and tapped into a larger theme: nostalgia and its impact on consumer behavior.

Starbucks’ PSL, aka Pumpkin Spice Latte, has become synonymous with the start of fall. Every year shortly after Labor Day, the PSL arrives, and fans of the coffeehouse chain flock to grab their first of the season, often capturing the moment on Instagram. This year Dunkin’ launched their fall line of coffee drinks almost a week earlier, so I made a quick trip with my coworker to the coffee giant for my first taste of autumn. There is truly nothing like walking down the street in a cozy sweater, with leaves crunching under my shoes and a hot drink in hand.

Nostalgia relates to our positive past experiences, evoking a sense of hope and excitement for the coming months. Maybe you had a pumpkin or apple picking tradition with your family, or its the flurry of holidays approaching. At this time of year, the possibilities feel endless.

Professor of sociology Kathryn Lively told Huffpost*, “we’re conditioned from a very early age that the autumn comes with all these exciting things,” like going back to school, getting new clothes and supplies, and seeing friends. Additionally, we see autumn as comforting; we pull out our boots and scarves and get cozy while swapping out salads for soups, Lively said.

Numerous studies over the past decade have shown us that feelings of nostalgia lead to people spending more. In a fast-paced world and ever-changing economy, consumers are comforted by feelings, tastes and other senses that evoke fond memories. Brands that appeal to consumers’ emotions can create powerful relationships with their consumers and generate loyalty.

Brand marketers can tap into this through a variety of activations, like bringing back (even if temporarily) retired but beloved flavors, reintroducing an older logo, leveraging the founder’s story in your communications, or introducing a limited edition product with a vintage touch. As long as you stay true to your brand, leveraging the nostalgia trend can be an effective way to connect with consumers and drive growth.

– Pareesha Narang, Social Media & Communications Manager


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