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  • Kayla Petroski

Fall: A Cultural and Business Phenomenon

Pumpkin spice lattes, grandpa sweaters, and rainy days - the telltale signs that fall is fast approaching. Soon, social media feeds will be filled with pumpkin flavored baked goods, fall fashion, horror movies, and everything in between. Late night television will be filled with the nostalgia of Hocus Pocus and Halloween Town.

With the rise of social media and the collective move towards aesthetics, “Fall” has become a cultural and business phenomenon. Out of all the seasons of the year, fall seems to have created a name for itself in the world of businesses. While the other seasons have their fair share of time in advertisements, nothing seems to reach the same level that fall does.

A 2022 October survey found that fall is statistically America’s favorite season. Over 40% of adults listed fall as their favorite season, with Summer and Spring being the runner-ups with an equal 24% of votes. 63% of those surveyed who chose fall stated it was because of the changing leaf colors and 50% stated it was because of fall-inspired foods.

In 2004, Starbucks launched the now famous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), starting what would later become a seasonal tradition. In 2006, with the arrival of social media, through Twitter and Facebook, the drink took off to a whole new level. Today with Tiktok, 20 years later, the drink has become a cultural phenomenon. As fall rolls around each year, feeds become filled with people taking sips of their first PSL of the fall season. The PSL was followed by an influx of pumpkin products. Pumpkin spice candles now overrun the shelves from September to December and almost all coffee shops now seem to have their own version of the pumpkin spice latte.

Not only has Starbucks upped their numbers through the drink itself, but also through the merchandise including t-shirts, stickers, and coffee mugs. Although Starbucks does not disclose its exact numbers, it has been confirmed that 600 million PSL’s have been sold since its creation. The cost of this fall-themed drink starts at around $4, which comes to an estimated revenue for Starbucks of around $2.4 billion dollars since 2003. There is also a 25.7% rise in foot traffic in Starbucks stores once the PSL returns in late August. Other coffee shops have launched their own fall themed drinks as a way to hop on this trend in the hopes of increasing their own sales. Coffee shops have successfully turned the fall aesthetic into a way to promote and grow their businesses.

Food isn’t the only thing that fall has taken over. The rise in aesthetics has given birth to the fall aesthetic. An aesthetic is a collection of colors, patterns, images, etc. that create a cohesive look that can sometimes be associated with seasons or ways of life, such as cottagecore aesthetics or fall aesthetics. Due to the rise of social media and influencers, it seems as though everything must adhere to an aesthetic. Therefore, fall has been created into its own aesthetic featuring neutral colors, long coats, thick scarves, pumpkin patches, and the leaves changing colors.

Although fall doesn’t officially start until September 23rd, by the time June rolls around, the internet becomes full of content creators creating fall aesthetic outfit videos. Influencer Caitlin Covington, now coined as “Christian Girl Autumn” has gained over 7 billion views on her annual fall photo shoot with hashtags such as #fallaesthetic. In 2019, Covington became famous for the “Christian Girl Autumn” meme posted by trans creator Natasha. A year later, using her popularity, Covington helped raise money and awareness to support Natasha’s transition.

With fall also comes the popular holiday of Halloween, which comes with elaborate advertisements and marketing techniques such as Kellogg’s spooky cereal designs or ghost shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups. Companies use the Halloween season to promote their products in new and exciting ways such as Burger King’s popular Halloween whopper or Crest’s toothpaste #Bringonthecandy advertisement.

The fall season becomes a time for businesses to reinvent their products so as to reinvigorate interests. For example, Kellogg's Halloween spooky cereal designs catches the attention of customers that would typically walk by the regular covers out of familiarity. This new cover, featuring the original characters but in spookier contexts, makes customers take a second look at a product they have become almost passively familiar with.

This potential to reinvent products and their advertisements makes fall a prime time for companies to advertise to their customers. Returning to the 2022 survey, a follow-up question found that 55% of respondents said they were interested in fall-themed content from brands.

With companies creating fall-themed advertisements to boost their sales and content creators filling social media feeds with fall content, fall has almost itself become a trend. It has gained a life of its own, giving birth to trends in the baking community, fashion world, and business world. It has outgrown its status as a season and instead has been commodified through aesthetics into a cultural and business phenomenon.

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