Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) is a Starbucks institution, with a proud global fan base. It is an important product in Starbucks’ inventory, but budget pressures and a marketing focus on coffee quality meant that we were faced with an historically low media budget for 2017.
We knew a typical paid media approach would be all but guaranteed to fail.
Q. What do you do if you can’t afford to pay to advertise your most iconic product?
A. You get people to pay you to advertise it for you.
Social media is incredibly important to our target audience (millennial, mainstream, female trend followers), and Starbucks has a background of using social media in a way that reflects how our audience uses it.
We have a heritage of spotting emerging cultural trends through our social community. In 2015, we saw our fans starting to communicate in the visual language of emojis, so capitalised on this trend with what became the most successful Twitter emoji of the year. In 2016 we noticed the trend of ‘wall scouting’ (finding bold and creative backdrops for a perfect Instagram shot) gaining traction, so we covered key UK cities in hand-crafted murals depicting that year’s 10 Red Cup designs.
We built on that approach to promote PSL by tapping into one of the biggest social media trends in 2017 – mirror selfies. Our target audience spend an unhealthy amount of time filling their Instagram timelines with selfies carefully posed in front of the mirror, and we saw a perfect opportunity to infiltrate that moment.
We knew that if we could somehow get Pumpkin Spice Latte into all those selfies we would be onto a good thing. The question was: how could we do that without expecting people to carry a PSL cup with them at all times?
It was when looking through Instagram at mirror selfies for what felt like the four hundredth time that we had our eureka moment. Mirror selfies consistently feature one thing beyond the millennial girl and the mirror itself – a designer phone case. The designer phone case has become the new millennial status symbol and every self-respecting mirror selfie featured one.
So we created our own designer phone case – three of them to be precise. We created a limited edition range of Pumpkin Spice Latte iPhone cases and sold them to our eager PSL fans. This meant that every time one of our fans took a mirror selfie and shared it with her followers, our PSL branding was front and centre, doing the job of raising awareness and reminding fans that it was PSL season for us.
In order to make it happen we partnered with our millennial audience’s favourite brand of the moment – Skinny Dip, the UK’s leading accessory and phone case brand. Together we produced three limited-edition, glitter-filled PSL iPhone cases. These cases were sold through the most fashionable stores (Topshop, Selfridges, etc.) as well as through Skinny Dip themselves and via Starbucks directly.
We planned a three-stage launch:
First, we created buzz around their unveiling through a private launch party, organised by Manning Gottlieb OMD and hosted by Skinny Dip. It featured influencers, celebrities, journalists and guest DJs helping themselves to gift bags with phone cases, PSL-inspired cocktails (alongside the real thing), artists decorating Starbucks cups and, of course, a giant, autumn-themed selfie mirror.
Second, we launched publicly. We replicated the VIP party but for the public, inviting 300 millennial PSL fans to a central London venue to experience DJs, a branded photo-booth, nail artists providing manicures in PSL-inspired colours and, again, a giant selfie mirror.
Finally, the public launch was supported with dedicated spaces in stores and concessions, window displays and through paid social media.