Both in regard to the red festive cups (which have a designated count-down site anticipating their return) and the drinks themselves, their popularity stems from the scarcity principle - referred to as the “rule of the few” (Cialdini, 2007). People don’t know what they have until they realize they can lose it. Be it the “reduced to clear” tag on a product in the grocery store, or a “limited time offer” claim in a “buy-one-get-one-free” scenario, Starbucks acknowledges that something becomes more attractive when there is a limited availability. Like a diamond over a rock - if it’s rare or unique, its more valuable (Mittone & Savadori, 2009). According to Robert Cialdini, the scarcity principle works on 2 major sources: a “weakness for shortcuts” – where we assume, that what is rare is more valuable, and an “unwillingness to lose freedoms” – where if scarcity interferes with our ability to acquire something we previously could have, we fight against it (Cialdini, 2007). By that logic, we value a toffee nut latte higher than we do an all-year-round available latte, and we refuse not to engage in a freedom (purchasing the festive drink) which we know will eventually be taken away from us. Consequently, we end up making decisions on an internal timer - purchasing lower-quality items at a reduced price in the clearance aisle for fear that this bargain will never come again, and buying absurdly sweetened drinks promised to taste like holiday joy even if we have always been black coffee, no sugar.
Cialdini, R. B., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion (pp. 173-174). New York: Collins.
Mittone, L., & Savadori, L. (2009). The scarcity bias. Applied Psychology, 58(3), 453-468.