Thirsty for Stanley

Feb 21, 2024

by Karla Finlan 

A few months back, a woman posted a TikTok video of her car after it caught fire. Despite the inferno, she marveled at how her Stanley tumbler remained unharmed, yesterday’s ice still clinking inside The video quickly racked up tens of millions of views, and within days, the President of Stanley gifted her a new car on behalf of the company in an equally viral video message. The tumbler surviving the fire was a testament to the brand’s promise of Built for Life™  and the company’s heroic response, mere weeks before Christmas, warranted all the heart emojis. 

Speaking of Christmas, my 9-year old handed me her wish list in the days that followed. There, in her top 5, in caps and underlined: “A STANLEY”. When I inquired as to “which Stanley” she held one wrist up and put the other on her hip, feigned a sip and replied: “The big one- with the handle.” Instagram had prepared me well for this moment: it was unmistakably the Stanley Quencher. The $45 social media darling, the tween girl’s equivalent of Ralphie’s Red Rider BB gun from A Christmas Story. It was, without a doubt, one of the most talked about products of the season. And they were selling FAST. 

This Millennial Mom did some quick “girl math”: If I bought the Stanley, I could toss the other half dozen sub-par kids travel cups already in my cabinet that were mold-prone with a million little attachment pieces. Having all these other cups and associated pieces was not in line with my 2024 minimalism mantra. And surely, if this cup could outlast a car fire, chances were good it could survive the heated drama that is 4th grade lunch and recess.  Most importantly, it would encourage her to drink more water because it was cool, literally and figuratively. Priceless. The math was mathing, as the kids say. I promptly added a colorblocked pastel Stanley 40oz Quencher to my Amazon order and put it under the tree 3 days later. 

It wasn’t the car fire that ignited the frenzy. But it certainly helped to fan the flames. CNBC reports Stanley has seen sales growth over 300% between 2019 and 2023, driven largely by the Quencher model. 

What can brands learn from Stanley? 

  • It’s never too late to attract a new audience. The 111 year old-company, founded by William Stanley Jr. with his patented all-steel, double-wall vacuum bottle was used by pilots in World War II and blue collar workers to keep their coffee hot all day. And in the years following, it spoke primarily to the adventure-seeking, outdoorsy, camping set. So how did the brand transition to be so covetable amidst the most “basic” of Lululemon and Ugg wearing, Starbucks-toting Millennials and Gen Z’ers (and subsequently, their daughters)? Influencer marketing. Rumor has it, a few years back, Stanley’s Quencher tumbler was on the verge of being discontinued. With the help of some passionate online influencers who believed in the product and convinced the company to offer the tumbler in more feminine pastel colors, the Quencher took off. The right brand evangelists- trusted “mommy bloggers” at this point- made Stanley resonate with an entirely new demographic.
  • Leverage existing trends to make your product relevant. The Quencher comeback neatly coincided with the pandemic- where interest in health and wellness exploded. Consumers hydrated like never before. And- with an equally hot sustainability movement- it was easier than ever to justify spending upwards of $40 on a water bottle. In an interview with Retail Dive, Matt Navarro, SVP of global commerce at Stanley stated, “When looking into the product pipeline, we bet on the fact that the Quencher use case fit our new strategy of hydration, color revolution and meeting consumer lifestyle.”
  • Scarcity makes consumers thirsty for more. Some of Stanley’s most buzzworthy moments came from the hysteria around limited edition collabs with brands and celebs such as OLAY, Target, Starbucks and CMA Entertainer of the Year Lainey Wilson (the latter of which sold out in 11 minutes this past November, and is currently reselling on eBay for upwards of $300, up from $55). The New Year’s Eve drop of Galentine’s Day themed cups at Target incited long lines before stores even opened, and mad dashes to grab one before displays were decimated. 
  • Embrace the viral moments. Sometimes consumer generated content can be the best content. Remember the Fleetwood Mac Ocean Spray skateboarder? Jessica Simpson’s viral Chicken of the Sea moment on Newlyweds? Capitalize on these *free* pop culture nuggets. The internet loves when brands acknowledge these organic moments.

Watch-out: Stanley has prided themselves on their Built for Life(TM)  products, which reduces the demand for disposable products that end up in waste and water streams. With their products now fueling entire hobbies of collections, might their original intent be falling short? Who actually needs a different water bottle for every day of the week- or in some extreme cases- every day of the month? 

(Shortly before this article was to be published, Stanley responded to claims regarding its products containing lead. The company confirmed the while lead is used in the manufacturing process, the product would need to be damaged in order to expose the lead component, maintaining that it’s protected by a barrier of stainless steel. They added that their engineering and supply teams were making progress on finding alternative materials for use in the sealing process. A good reminder that cancel culture is alive and well, and that a brand can fall just as fast as it rose in the face of adversity.)

My daughter was elated with her newest fashion wellness accessory. We’re more than a month in with “my Stanley” and most days, she drinks the full 40oz. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the masses have never been so hydrated. 

Related Articles

Brand-Led Advertising
Brand-Led Advertising
The W(ai)ld West
Pet Tricks
Thirsty for Stanley
Thirsty for Stanley