Who Does Pumpkin’s PR?

I’m not much of a grocery shopper. Don’t get me wrong – To this day, one of the most rewarding parts of adulthood has been the allure of running up and down supermarket halls filling my cart full of treats that I was never allowed to eat as a child. The problem is that between work, grad school and my new kickball league, I find little time to productively shop for a week’s worth of groceries.

However, when I tagged along with my roommate for a trip to Trader Joe’s this week, I was completely flabbergasted when I turned to my left and bumped right into what was nothing short of sheer pumpkin pandemonium.

Let me back up and start by saying that I don’t live under a rock. Everybody knows Starbucks started the pumpkin spice craze back in 2003. Starbucks project manager Peter Dukes and his team were tasked with capturing the success of the peppermint mocha seasonal beverage in a new drink catered for the fall season. After a significant amount of testing and perfecting, the pumpkin spice latte (PSL) was conceived and rolled out at 100 Starbucks stores throughout Canada and Washington D.C. The drink rapidly became a nationwide success with more than 200 million PSLs sold by 2017.

Now back to me flabbergasted in my local Trader Joe’s.

As I stood there examining the pumpkin cookies, pumpkin butter and pumpkin ravioli, I couldn’t help but think to myself…does all this pumpkin stuff even taste that good?

And you know what I decided? No. The answer is no, and we’re all lying to ourselves. A pumpkin is some hybrid gourd that grows from the ground and, call me crazy, should not belong in my autumn cookies and coffee?! And yet, there I was surrounded by pumpkin pandemonium.

The rise of this phenomenon left me on a mission to find the answer to the remaining question: “Who does pumpkin’s PR?”

As a communications professional, exploring this question led me to a valuable conclusion that I am ready to share with all of you.

Our own emotions are pumpkin’s PR. This pumpkin craze proves that properly evoking your audience’s emotions is the foundation of a successful public relations campaign.

According to an NBC News report, it’s not that we’re necessarily obsessed with how pumpkin spice tastes. Rather, we’re obsessed with how it makes us feel on a deeper emotional level. Dr. John McGann, a sensory neuroscientist at Rutgers University’s Psychology Department, states that “most of what we refer to colloquially as taste is actually smell.”

Therefore, the reason why pumpkin spice has ignited such a phenomenon is because pumpkin includes aromas like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg – smells that fire our synapses precisely because we associate them with Thanksgiving and autumnal harvest – times of significance for countless generations of families. Essentially, pumpkin spice has been such an enduring trend because its smell induces natural emotions in us as humans.

As PR professionals, we are constantly thinking how we can most effectively appeal to the emotions of our target audiences. Whether we are looking to educate or motivate an audience, we want to leave them feeling fulfilled with the content we create on behalf of our clients. This fulfillment is in many ways similar to the smell of your first PSL of the season. Generating emotion should be at the core of many of our campaign goals.

I’m glad I was finally able to squash this debate once and for fall!

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