The Power of Pumpkin Spice

Darian O'Reilly / Thursday, September 3, 2015

There are almost three weeks of summer left, all of the leaves are still on the trees and I’m already craving pumpkin. How has this traditionally Thanksgiving flavor taken over the third of the year between Labor Day and New Year’s Eve? The pumpkin spice people have a Svengali hold on us with their delicious lattes, muffins, ice cream and pancakes – mmmm don’t even get me started on the pancakes – not to mention a bevy of other less, um, appetizing choices like potato chips, Peeps and Oreos (oh the humanity).


So here’s the question: WHY do we long for pumpkin spice flavored treats in this way? Sure they are delicious, but so are lots of other yummy things that don’t cause such a visceral reaction in so many of us.

And here’s the next question: What the heck does this have to do with user experience? Well lots, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

First let’s think about the first question. There are a few things going on here:

1. Supply & Demand–Pumpkin flavored goodies are only available at a certain time of year. This means that even though we still have a good 4 months to get our fill of pumpkin everything, there is some feeling of urgency that if we don’t get some now we might miss out.

2. Predictable Rewards- Pavlov has taught us that just as my beagles run to the cookie closet for a treat every time I pick up my keys to leave the house, we humans start salivating for a pumpkin spice latte at back to school time.

3. Emotional Association – Pumpkin, traditionally associated with warm, cuddly images of family by the fire eating pumpkin pie or carving a jack o’ lantern and laughing together, evokes that cozy holiday feeling and who doesn’t love that?


So what can we learn from these tactics that will help to make your web presence more compelling to users?

1. Supply & Demand– Create a ‘special limited time offer’ and place it somewhere prominent on your site. Make it fun. Make it seem urgent. If you can’t just create a special deal, spin one of your regular offerings in a new way making it seem limited and in high demand.

2. Predictable Rewards– Use intuitive navigation, hover states for buttons and links and confirmation messages for forms. Give your users piece of mind that they are navigating through your site correctly. Don’t leave them hanging looking for a hidden page or wondering if their form submission went through.

3. Emotional Association – Focus on making sure that the language and photography you use on your site is relatable, friendly and open minded. Don’t limit yourself to standard transactional and marketing language or using one of the six favored stock images that everyone in your industry is also using. It doesn’t matter if you are providing services or selling scientific equipment, make your site personal.

A few small things can go a long way. You are bound to see a spike in return visitors as well as increased time spent on your site if you take some cues from the Great Pumpkin. I’m pretty sure he’s the one behind all of this anyway.

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