Image: AP

Labor Day doesn’t arrive for another two weeks, but summer is essentially over, and corporate America is circling its corpse. By which I mean that it’s already pumpkin spice time.

The New York Times noted that PSL season (everything is branded now; fall is PSL season, and before we know it summer will be Miller Lite Inner Tubing Bikini Instagram Time) begins earlier and earlier every year, to the extent that this very day—August 14—Dunkin Donuts is getting started. Their announcement revealed:

Dunkin’s long-awaited fall lineup will arrive at participating Dunkin’ restaurants nationwide by August 21, led by the delicious new Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Signature Latte. For guests eager for an even earlier chance to get pumped for pumpkin, eight Dunkin’ restaurants will make the start of pumpkin season clear to all by changing the store’s signage from Dunkin’ to Pumpkin’ and serving free Pumpkin Flavored Coffees and pumpkin-scented MUNCHKINS® lip balm on August 14.

Of course, they’re trying to get the jump on Starbucks, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the distant thunder of a pumpkin spice onslaught coming our way. Some other pumpkin spice products available this fall (this is not a comprehensive list):

Also, cinnamon Coke, which feels related, and Panera is also pointedly eschewing pumpkin spice for cinnamon, a development that I applaud, because cinnamon is way better than pumpkin spice.

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Of course, this is all part of the larger context of marketing in the era of social media.

All the marketing experts we called were on vacation, so we will remind readers what Liz Dunn, founder of Talmage Advisors, a brand strategy consulting firm, once told The New York Times: The makers of pumpkin spice products were trying to capitalize on consumers’ urge to engage with and discuss limited-time offerings via social media. So it’s only natural companies would try to introduce the flavor earlier each year.

“If companies can get people to do it for a longer period of time, it can only increase relevance,” she said. “That’s brand magic right there — unless, of course, it backfires.” She said that in 2017, so we guess that it hasn’t.

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Fortunately, the overwhelming dominance of pumpkin spice ensures that other autumnal flavors such as maple and apple cider flavor remain a niche taste, and I don’t have to literally fight somebody for a fresh-fried apple cider donut. At least, until pumpkin spice plays out and it’s time to find another buzzy flavor.