In an overstimulated attention economy, even the most ordinary items are eventually yassified into veritable status symbols. Hey, it worked for cushioned foam clogs, why not reusable water bottles?

If you occupy a certain corner of TikTok long enough, you’ll find them: the Stanley cup collectors. I’m not talking about fans of the giant trophy given to NHL champions, mind you, but folks who obsessively stock up on the Stanley Quencher tumbler.

Videos about shopping, explaining, and praising the so-called Stanley cups racked up millions of views on TikTok by late 2023.

Though retail analysts posit that Quencher tumbler domination began as early as 2017, demand for the Stanley Quencher really peaked last year. Either way, Stanley’s signature reusable water bottle was hypercharged by Terence Reilly, Stanley’s president.

Before joining Stanley in 2020, Reilly was Crocs’ chief marketing officer for five years, setting up the game plan that bestowed upon Crocs the comfy crossover success it currently enjoys today.

Reilly isn’t the sole figure deserving of credit for the Quencher renaissance, of course, but he was presumably instrumental in shifting Stanley’s brand image, adapting the 110-year-old company in ways both subtle and stark,

For instance, Stanley’s Instagram feed has evolved from staid photos of utilitarian campsite gear to pretty pastel cups and videos of fan events in LA. Notice that nearly everyone in line is young and toting a $50 reusable water bottle; this ain’t your average water bottle demo.

Under Reilly’s direction, Stanley cups are now available in a rainbow of hues and arrive via infrequent drops in the vein of hyped sneakers, enjoying all the fanfare of, well, hyped sneakers.

There’s more to the Crocs-Stanley connection, like the power of subliminal viral marketing.

For instance, one woman’s mid-November TikTok showing a Stanley tumbler apparently surviving her car fire exploded across the internet with such gusto that it became a local news talking point, even before Stanley, by way of Reilly, promised to replace the woman’s burnt-out car (and send her free Stanley cups, too).

Even by summer 2023, Stanley cups were so in-demand that rare models and sales inspired Black Friday-like rushes, as shoppers desperate for drink cup discounts clobbered store displays loaded up with the prized Quencher tumbler.

Word of mouth is the biggest factor driving Stanley cup demand. People see other people using and enthusing about them online and so it goes. Pretty classic stuff.

This is a similar phenomenon to hype driven for other buzzy water bottle brands, like Nalgene, brand of choice for the gorpcore set, and Hydro Flask, beloved by 2019’s VSCO girls.

Reusable water bottles have become subcultural signifiers more reflective of the person carrying them than the stuff that’s inside them. In a society where you are what you buy, even your preferred water-holding device carries meaning.

It’s why the reusable water bottle market is suddenly so competitive, why clothing companies collaborate with bottle brands, and why Air Up is inundating the internet with ads in which a crisp, ASMR-y narrator promises that “Zhis is not a votter bottle.”

Stanley is perhaps the best example of how reusable water bottle brands gone the way of Crocs.

It’s the phenomenon of a company noticing its product trending towards virality and then leans into the movement, presumably at Reilly’s bequest in both cases.

Neither Stanley nor Crocs make product that’s inherently gendered or age-specific, obviously but thanks to a savvy social media presence, targeted collaborations, word of mouth, and semi-affordable products that’re as useful as the influencers promise they are, Crocs and Stanley have both built a sturdy following of younger consumers.

Crocs’ demographic breakdown is made pretty obvious in its Instagram comments section, where fans plead for a restock of the memetic Lightning McQueen clogs, and TikTok, where the Crocs hashtag has over 11.5 billion views.

Sure, Crocs isn’t only selling clogs to kids, but the fact kids crave its clogs is a retail achievement unto itself. Same goes for Stanley.

Everyone wants to be the new hotness. And, sometimes, that includes foam slip-ons and stainless steel drink cups.

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