Starbucks’ peppermint mocha is one of the cafe’s most popular holiday drinks, which have returned to the menu as of Nov. 7, 2019. (Marissa Willke/Emerald)

Refreshing peppermint. Warm, spiced gingerbread. Toasted marshmallows and milk chocolate. Have you considered what goes behind the holiday cheer of your piping hot holiday drink?

Nationwide chains like Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts roll out full-blown holiday campaigns every year, complete with festive menus, cups and roasts for the season. As holidays get more commercialized, it’s difficult to differentiate one’s expectation of the holidays versus the holiday cheer promotions.

With the increased commercialization of holidays, especially the market for seasonal drinks, consumers should consider mulling over: Are we enjoying them because it’s “that” time of year, or are we as consumers constantly being pressed to enjoy them?

 As your holiday cynic, it is my job to inform you that the momentum for fourth-quarter earnings are why holiday marketing is so concentrated. This year’s campaign was a year’s work in the making, since the holidays — for Starbucks at least — is “the company’s most critical campaign of the year,” according to Fox Business Insider


The holiday drink market is increasingly lucrative. During this year’s holiday quarter, Starbucks’ revenue rose above Wall Street expectations, following trends similar to last year.

“[The holiday] tradition is important to them, even when we introduce our pumpkin platform they’re already asking about Christmas,”according to an interview with Roz Brewer, Starbucks’ chief operating officer,

“For Starbucks, seasonal offerings are a way to create buzz, give their fans what they want and boost sales,” according to CNN Business. “New or seasonal menu items help drive sales because customers often buy them in addition to their regular orders, instead of swapping items out.”

Even in our local locations, the (too early) festivity was present. On Nov. 6, the EMU Starbucks switched to this year’s bright red holiday menu, with employees donning matching red aprons. This year’s holiday specials include peppermint mocha and caramel brulee latte, plus an assortment of other drinks, pastries, sandwiches and merchandise with seasonal ingredients and festive decorations. 

To redeem themselves from last year, the company kicked off the holidays by  giving away free reusable “red cup” tumblers on Nov. 7 for those who ordered a grande of any of their holiday drinks. This year was the second year in a row that Starbucks gave out the reusable red cups, which went disastrously last year due to underestimation of cup supply. Was this just an act to get redemption for last year’s red cup distribution conundrum? Maybe, but if this freebie is a part of making and maintaining traditions, this is another ingenious tactic for drumming up anticipation for the holidays. 

Every year, Starbucks makes it a point to garner more attention and cajole more excitement to their seasonal specials, to outdo the year before. This year’s holiday selections were prepared a year in advance, with the company using feedback from years past as well as “extensive product testing” to decide on the final line, according to Fox Business Insider.


For this holiday season, the normal white cups were switched to red and green designs, including “Polka Dots,” “Merry Dance,” “Merry Stripes” and “Candy Cane Stripe,” sticking closer to more Christmasy designs than years prior. Starbucks has an interesting history of receiving customer backlash on designs, including being accused of hating Jesus in 2015, according to CNN Business.

Since their 2015 controversy, cup designs are eagerly anticipated by consumers and written about by publications including Forbes, CNN Business, Fox Business, E! News and local publications across the nation. The excitement that comes just from waiting for cup design reveals can be described as cult-like.

Do I hate the holidays? No, I like them just as much as the next person, but it’s this type of advertising and insistence on skipping over (underrated) autumn and jumping straight into the holidays that is increasingly frustrating. 

This tradition of having holiday specials for Starbucks started in 1997, with the introduction of the peppermint mocha and a season-specific cup design, according to the Starbucks website. With over 20 years worth of holiday specials behind them, the tradition’s strength via advertising alongside customer expectation is enough to make the holidays seem to come earlier every year.

Not to be the only contenders for the holidays, Dunkin’ Donuts and Peet’s Coffee also rolled out their holiday lines. Dunkin’ and Peet’s have four seasonal flavors, both bringing their own renditions of peppermint mochas, as well as other sweets and gear. The holiday cheer seems unable to be contained as these and other food chains bring out other holiday exclusives, even though the consumer anticipation levels are unmatched compared to Starbucks.


Holiday spirit marketing becomes more contrived every year. Sure, your favorite flavors may be back, but also keep in mind that the creative teams at Starbucks are already planning next year’s campaigns — and they’ll be back sooner than you think.