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Pathmatics Blog

Holiday Brew: How national coffee chains are 'steeping' up digital spend

December 20 2021 by Matthew Bozin
Dunkin, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Starbucks side by side
Dunkin, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Starbucks side by side

Pumpkin spice season may be over, but peppermint and praline fans can finally rejoice. Holiday drinks at America's top coffee chains are here to give you a jolly jolt through your busy weekends of gift shopping and traveling.

Today, we'll take a look at how the top coffee chains across the nation are advertising their holiday drink lineup to caffeine-crazed consumers from November through the beginning of December 2021.

Starbucks decks the halls with a new holiday cup design and beverage lineup

Nothing can oust the iconic PSL from its number one spot in the Starbucks specialty drink lineup. Even so, plenty of hype comes with Starbucks' yuletide drinks, especially for its holiday-themed cup design that changes every year. Some of the old classics made their return this season, including Peppermint Mocha and Caramel Brulee, along with new flavors like the Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Iced Latte that quickly developed a cult following. The global coffee chain that built its empire around positioning itself as the third place between home and work isn't slowing down in the digital advertising space either.


Starbucks ad promoting the start of their holiday drinks availability


Starbucks invested $5.4M into its digital campaigns from November through the beginning of December, amassing over 515M total impressions.


Breakdown of Starbucks ad spend and platforms on Pathmatics


Starbucks made a strong push behind their new Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Iced Latte, with feed and video placements across multiple channels. Per Starbucks, there's "nothing cookie-cutter about" the brand's first non-dairy holiday drink item. The latte has quickly become a fan-favorite, selling out in Starbucks locations across the country on a routine basis. Additional video ads spotlight the brand's other holiday specialty beverages, including the crowd-pleasing Peppermint Mocha and Caramel Brulee Lattes. 

Most of Starbucks' ad share was divvied out to Instagram (64%), followed by desktop video (16%) and then Twitter (15%). Increases in spending coincided with their holiday drink lineup release (November 4th), with another big ad spend push towards the middle of the month to promote their one-day-only reusable red holiday cup sale.


Starbucks Twitter advertisement introducing new Sugar Cookie LatteStarbucks Twitter advertisement on reusable holiday red cups


Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf promotes giving the gift of coffee

Starbucks isn't the only national coffee chain to offer tasty holiday exclusives. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf unveiled their own bill of specialty beverages sweet enough to get any Grinch into the festive spirit. The coffee chain's Cookie Butter Latte has emerged as a top seller among its seasonal offerings. The brand first introduced the drink as part of the chain's exclusive fall menu, but it ended up receiving so much praise that the California-based coffee chain decided to make it a permanent fixture.

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf spent a conservative $131,300 on their digital ad campaigns during this period, a stark contrast in investment from Starbucks' whopping $5.4M.



Instead of aggressively promoting their specialty holiday drinks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf nudged their customers to become at-home baristas by advertising their coffee-flavoring powders, reusable cups, and whole bean coffee bags. The brand also seized the opportunity to concoct and promote their own frozen holiday beverage, the Peppermint Mocha Crumble Ice Blended drink, a smart move for the California-based coffee chain where cold coffee drinks are consumed year-round.


Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Facebook ad showcasing holiday products to giftCoffee Bean & Tea Leaf Facebook ad promoting 20 percent off products


Spend strategy was a bit more erratic for the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, with increases in spending occurring towards the beginning of the month to signal the arrival of their holiday drink lineup. Another spike in spending happened around the Thanksgiving holiday to push tempting images of Cookie Butter Lattes into the minds and social media feeds of exhausted holiday travelers.

Dunkin’ prioritizes customer perks over Peppermint Mocha

Unlike their Seattle-based competitor, Dunkin' has seldom expressed an interest in peddling a myriad of syrupy holiday beverages to its diverse customer base.

However, despite their lackluster holiday drink campaigning, Dunkin' still managed to shell out the big bucks on digital advertising campaigns during this period, almost $4M more than Starbucks, in fact.


Chart of Dunkin Donut ad spend


Instead of specialty beverages for the season, Dunkin' prioritized promoting its DD Perks customer loyalty program by offering members a free cup of coffee every Monday. It's apparent that Dunkins' goal for this period is to drive more signups for its DD Perks program; otherwise, we'd probably see more ad dollars supporting the brand's holiday beverage campaigns.


Dunkin Donut Facebook ad promoting free coffee on MondaysDunkin Donut promotes $2 coffee for members


That being said, the Boston-based coffee chain's ad campaigns weren't wholly devoid of holiday cheer during this period. Dunkin' did release creative promoting their new holiday coffee blend along with a Peppermint Mocha and Toasted White Chocolate Mocha Latte for anyone craving a bit of extra holiday flavor in their morning brew. 

Dunkin' also launched their holiday beverages around the same time as Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, coinciding with a spike in spending across all channels at the beginning of November. Additionally, we noted a bump in spending every Monday that aligned with the brand's initiative to promote their free coffee Mondays for DD Perks members.

With a little over a month into the holiday season, we’re seeing coffee chains like Starbucks speeding out of the gate with sensational seasonal lattes, Dunkin' making a holiday blitz to drive customer retention through its DD Perks program, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf promoting the gifting component of their holiday products. It'll be interesting to see how these brands fine-tune their advertising strategies in the days leading up to and the weeks following the holidays.

About Author
Matthew Bozin

After earning his BS in Communications, Matt cut his teeth in the entertainment industry, spending fifteen years writing everything from feature screenplays for A-List directors, to celebrity bios for some of Hollywood’s top actors. That creative drive made it an easy transition to Marketing, bringing his eye for storytelling to the digital advertising ecosystem.

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