The Pumpkin Spice Equinox

By Lauren Lee

The Big Mac Index was introduced in 1986 as a way to measure the strength of currencies based on the price of the McDonald’s hamburger in various countries. Originally created as something of a joke, many economists worldwide now use the Big Mac Index as a standard for global comparison.

It’s fascinating when popular restaurant items become gauges for the market and, therefore, important industry news. Starbucks grabbed headlines this summer when a release date of August 30 was “leaked” for their pumpkin spice latte, along with other seasonal beverages and foods.

I call this annual tradition the “Pumpkin Spice Equinox,” the day when Starbucks maybe-not-so-unofficially declares the beginning of fall by releasing their popular seasonal menu. The phrase is tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the decision of when to launch fall products is significant enough news to grab headlines in major publications.

It’s not a decision made lightly. For Starbucks, the timing is shaped by data and dollars. The beginning of fall also means the end of their summer menu. Rest assured that August 30 was chosen carefully to maximize earnings from each set of seasonal offerings.

But what can we learn from the choices major brands make regarding the start of fall campaigns? Should other industries follow suit or hold off until people start raking leaves?

The Pumpkin Spice Equinox versus the first “feelings” of fall

August 30 is fine if you’re selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes. After all, you can order them iced if you like.  But recent survey data suggests that most industries offering seasonal items could benefit by timing their campaigns based on the actual weather instead of the calendar date.

When asked which factors prompt consumers to make fall-related changes, by far the two most popular responses were what the weather feels like (65%) and the actual forecast (64%). That means understanding weather is a major opportunity for capitalizing on seasonal consumer habits.

In other words, you need to know precisely when your audience will pull out their sweaters or even buy new seasonal products.

The relativity of sweater weather

Pinpointing when sweater weather begins for specific markets involves more than knowing when the forecast will drop below a certain temperature. Weather is a relative phenomenon. When it’s 45⁰F degrees in Toronto, people are out wearing shorts and tossing the frisbee. When it’s 45⁰F degrees in Georgia, I’m bundled up on the couch and texting my friends to make sure they’re okay.

We asked consumers what temperature causes them to don their sweaters. The result is your guide to when people in US regions will start to “feel like it’s fall.”

A graphic displaying "sweater" weather temperatures by region

Brands across industries should take note. If the majority of consumers based their fall-related behavioral changes on the feelings of autumn, knowing the moment in which those feelings will occur is crucial.

But weather’s impact on your brand could extend beyond the transition from one season to another. Depending on your industry, consumer behavior may be equally—if not more—impacted by day-to-day weather conditions. People are more likely to order food delivery when it’s raining. Demand for skin creams and other products is linked to dry air. Sales for water and other beverages spike during severe weather when consumers anticipate a shortage.

This is starting to sound complicated

Nuanced? Definitely. But it’s not complicated if you have the right tools.

Regardless of your industry, your brand is certainly impacted by weather. But building an effective weather strategy requires more than a calendar and a free forecast.

IBM Watson Advertising combines the world’s most accurate weather data* with industry-leading technology to uncover how precise and hyperlocal conditions impact consumer mindsets and behaviors.

A fashionably late fall

Whether it’s the first nip of fall air or an unexpected thunderstorm, your brand should be ready to connect with consumers based on data-driven decisions about how they’ll be impacted by upcoming weather conditions.

As explained in our newest seasonal outlook, fall 2022 will start later than normal and be warmer than average. This could potentially delay seasonal consumer activity for various industries.

How will it impact your brand? Find out here.

In the meantime, enjoy your pumpkin spice everything.

 

* ForecastWatch, Global and Regional Weather Forecast Accuracy Overview 2017-2020 (opens outside ibm.com), commissioned by IBM. The Weather Company is the world's most accurate (opens outside ibm.com) forecaster, according to a 2017-2020 study, which is the most recent, most comprehensive study available from ForecastWatch.