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Starbucks: PSL 20th Anniversary

Entered in Food & Beverage


Every year for the past two decades, the Pumpkin Spice Latte (“PSL”) at Starbucks marked the unofficial start of fall, becoming a bona fide cultural icon in a way competitor coffee houses – all CPG brands across the board – have tried and failed to emulate. 

While the annual return of the PSL reliably brings excitement and anticipation for the return every August, as the creative and media agencies of record for Starbucks respectively, SPCSHP and Spark Foundry partnered to seek a solution that would continue the excitement around consumers’ love for the drink and sustain sales through November.

October 10th marked PSL’s official 20th birthday, unlocking a unique opportunity to celebrate the drink, its origin, and its place in popular culture to boost sales deep into the fall season. 

The theme of our “birthday party”? Throwing it back to the drink’s 2003 launch year. Tapping into Y2K nostalgia – a favorite for our primary Millennial and Gen Z customers – effectively setting the stage for a unique campaign strategy leveraging social-first tactics. These segments had different relationships with nostalgia: the former had lived through the 2000s in school, and the latter were discovering that timeframe now and romanticizing it. We architected a campaign and channel strategy that would effectively speak to both.

But it wasn’t just about talking to them. Turning October 10th into an unofficial Pumpkin Spice holiday would invite customers in-store to celebrate with us.


Nostalgia tends to manifest in 20 year cycles, and love for the early 2000s was evident in popular culture. But, for Millennial and Gen Z customers alike, it wasn’t just the timing that created the nostalgia. After navigating the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the early 2000s had something they yearned for: simple pleasures. These joys include:

PSL has a rightful connection to the era. Not only did it debut in 2003, but it quickly became synonymous with a certain archetype of the early aughts: it served as the unofficial accompaniment to every quintessential fall fanatic consumer at the time, right alongside their UGG Boots, North Face jackets, gradient sunglasses, and cozy velour tracksuits.

PSL’s birthday gave us the freedom to bring audiences back to everything they loved about the 2000s, inspiring pride in being a PSL fan and inviting people to recall fond memories of the past twenty autumns. 

On October 10th, we launched on Instagram and TikTok, social platforms that our audiences look to for daily inspiration and nostalgia. For three days, everything we posted embodied the spirit of our celebration – to pumpkin like it was 2003. 

We teleported our Instagram back twenty years, turning it into a relic of the era. A changed display name (xXStarBucks03Xx) and a perfectly pixelated avatar that would fit right in on AIM, we 2003-ified our page. We recreated scenes that unlocked our audience’s core memories, and, inspired by the teen magazines of the early 2000s, developed a personality quiz to determine which Pumpkin clique users would have been in. We also posted shareable, vintage T9 text messages users DMed to friends.

On TikTok, we tapped Grammy-award winning R&B artist Ashanti, who released a number one album in 2003, to pen a ready-for-radio homage to the PSL alongside a video that could have easily dominated the TRL charts. Main character energy activated. And in true pop culture fashion, we tapped entertainment editorial icon PEOPLE to co-produce, and create surrounding edit coverage.

We created our very own Time CaPSLs (“Capsules”) to send out to PSL superfans, loaded with pumpkin themed merch that had time traveled from 2003 to now. Furthermore, all customers received temporary tattoos who bought a PSL on its birthday - a goodie without the goodie bag.

BRB, daydreaming about pumpkin spice until it’s fall again.


The campaign collectively garnered 850MM+ paid media impressions across video, social, audio, and digital ad units. 

Across content related to PSL’s birthday, we generated a strong 7.1M video views and 358K likes across social channels.


Video for Starbucks: PSL 20th Anniversary

Entrant Company / Organization Name

SPCSHP, Spark Foundry, Starbucks


Entry Credits