How smart marketing, scarce supply and unique colours made the Stanley cup a must-have item

The Stanley Quencher, pictured for sale on the company’s website, is an insulated stainless steel travel mug that’s become extremely popular on social media and among consumers. A dramatic rise in the company’s revenue is being attributed in part to the tumbler. (Stanley)

The Stanley cup is so popular these days that even technology giants such as LG Electronics are getting on board.

And no, that doesn’t mean a South Korean appliance company is joining the National Hockey League.

It has nothing to do with the trophy handed out to the winner of the NHL playoffs each year (the confusion has led to some funny memes). Instead, it’s all about the reusable water bottle known as a Stanley.

Last week, LG unveiled the LG mycup tumbler washer at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It’s a machine specifically built to wash a water tumbler, including the Stanley cup.

The Stanley water bottle trend isn’t exactly new — the tumblers have been popular on social media for a couple of years — but it has lasted.

In December, for example, fans in the United States ran — literally — to get the newest limited-edition pink or red Stanley x Starbucks collaboration cup for Valentine’s Day at Target.

So how did we get here? 

Shift in customers brings ‘soda culture’

The Stanley brand was founded more than 100 years ago in Massachusetts. Vacuum sealed and made of stainless steel, the bottles have traditionally been marketed toward blue-collar workers — something they can take to the job site that not only maintains temperature but won’t break.

That image has undergone a massive shift in recent years.

“If you look at it when they were targeting men, it was about you can be active. It weathers all of the hardships you weather in a day and it’s a bit more about the ruggedness of the product,” said Aleena Mazhar Kuzma, senior vice-president and managing director at FUSE Create, a Toronto-based advertising agency.

But now, she said, “it’s about the esthetic.”

Enter the Stanley Quencher — an insulated stainless steel travel mug that fits in a vehicle’s cup holder, has a straw and currently retails for $46 US to upwards of $70 US, depending on size.

Released in 2016, the Quencher didn’t go viral right away. But it quickly became popular among female members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or the Mormon Church, said Paul Matzko, a historian and research fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Historically, LDS members have followed church doctrine, which requires them to abstain from hot drinks like coffee and tea. In 2012, however, the church clarified that its health practices do not mention the use of caffeine. This led to the creation of a popular “soda culture” among younger members of the community, Matzko said.

“There are now chains of dirty soda shops … where they mix soda with other things. It can be sweeteners, like coffee creamers. It can be candy,” he said, adding that as such drinks became more popular, people began to make their own to carry with them throughout the day.

“You need a big object to do that in. And eventually the Stanley tumbler comes to fill that role.”

This was in large part due to a group of women who ran an e-commerce blog called The Buy Guide, Matzko said. The women would buy and sell Stanley Quenchers to their followers, many of whom were Mormon. The Buy Guide women eventually partnered with Stanley after showing the company how popular the Quenchers were in their community.

WATCH | Historian Paul Matzko on Mormon soda culture:

Sales take off under new leader

Then in 2020, Stanley, which is now based in Seattle, brought on Terence Reilly as its new president. Reilly had spent the previous seven years at footwear company Crocs and is largely credited with making the plastic shoe a fashion icon popular among celebrities like Justin Bieber and Bad Bunny.

The cup took off, becoming Stanley’s most popular item in 2020, and it’s contributed to the company’s revenue jumping from $73 million US in 2019 to a projected $750 million US in 2023, according to CNBC.

“It was regular moms in this case, women who are looking for something specific,” such as a wide variety of colours and the ability to maintain a drink’s temperature, said Kuzma of the FUSE Create ad agency.

The tumbler’s popularity has also surged on the social media site TikTok, where #Stanley currently has nearly three billion views.

The site is where Meghie Smids, a Canadian influencer who typically posts online about her experience as a woman working in engineering and finance, first came across the bottle.

Meghie Smids holds up two Stanley water bottles.
Meghie Smids holds up her Stanley water bottles. Smids, who says she was attracted to the unique colours and the ability to fit the bottle in her car’s cup holder, travelled to the U.S. in 2022 to purchase one because the bottles were so hard to find in Canada. (Zoom)

“I saw these water bottles kind of all over TikTok, and they came in so many really cool colours. So that was one of the things that appealed to me,” Smids told CBC News. “Another thing was that they fit into a cup holder, and I have had so many problems with big water bottles, wanting to carry around a lot of water to drink, but not being able to fit it in my car cup holder.”

Smids said the bottles were so hard to find in Canada that in 2022, she travelled to the U.S. to pick one up. She has one 40-ounce and one 30-ounce bottle.

The role of the scarcity model

Kuzma attributes Stanley’s lasting success to something called the scarcity model: “Because they’re so hard to find, it makes people feel like they need it even more.”

This is why people are reselling Stanley cups on sites like eBay for hundreds of dollars, she said, adding that she doesn’t think Stanley’s moment is over just yet.

“This hype exists while people are lining up for hours to actually even buy the product. So there are millions of customers that probably don’t even own it yet,” Kuzma said.

Matzko has a slightly different perspective.

“If you surf TikTok now, creators will talk about how the Stanley tumbler was cool as long as it was niche. But now everyone has one … and so it’s overexposed. And the way coolness works … once it becomes overexposed, it stops being cool,” he said.

“The Stanley tumbler is going to be a victim of its own success.”

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