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The Stanley Water Bottle Craze, Explained

Amanda Mull, writing for the Atlantic about the internet’s fad du jour, the Stanley cup (the water bottle, not the hockey trophy):

How did Stanley, which has seen its annual revenue increase from $73 million in 2019 to a projected $750 million in 2023, become so popular, so quickly? Lots of very smart people have tried to reverse engineer an explanation to the Stanley mystery — why this cup, right now, out of all the zillions of insulated drinking vessels available to American shoppers? But the actual story here is more about the nature of trends themselves than about a cup. There is no real reason any of this happened, or at least no reason that will feel satisfying to you. Sometimes a cup is just a cup in the right place at the right time.

But actually, I think this video from Phil Edwards comes pretty close to nailing why these cups are hot right now: it’s got a lot to do with savvy marketing and the CEO Stanley brought in in 2020.

From a Harvard Business Review podcast with Stanley CEO Terence Reilly, who was formerly the CMO of Crocs:

TERENCE REILLY: Well, I didn’t do anything, we had an amazing team at Crocs, similar to Stanley. One day, Toria Roth, who was just fresh off of her internship at Crocs, she walked into my office, the CMO’s office, and she said, “Terence, do you have a minute?” And she showed me a photo of Post Malone wearing Crocs.

ALISON BEARD: And Post Malone is a very popular musician.

TERENCE REILLY: Absolutely. And he wasn’t wearing them with any sort of irony, he just was wearing them. And she said, “This could be something for Crocs.” And so, I reached out to the folks that manage Post Malone, and I said, “Hey, would you be interested in a partnership or a collaboration where Post could create his own Crocs?”

And a few months later, the first celebrity collaboration with Crocs was born. And I think it broke the Crocs website when they went live, we had more people waiting than we could handle. And obviously, that set the stage for multiple artists and brands over the following years to collaborate with Crocs.

I remember when Crocs suddenly (and confusingly) became cool — one summer, all of the campers at my kids’ summer camps were wearing them. The summer before that, well…”those holes are where your dignity leaks out”.

I watched Edwards’ video with my 14-year-old daughter (she saw it on my YouTube homepage and was like, “wait, what’s that?”) and we talked about it afterward. She has a Quencher that she bought a couple of months ago and when I asked her why she got it, she replied that it had been blowing up on TikTok. But, she also said that the Stanley is better than any of her other water bottles because of the straw — she actually uses it more because the straw is easier to drink from and doesn’t require any unscrewing or flip-topping or anything and can be done without actually picking up the cup.

I also told her about how cool teen trends spread when I was a kid growing up in the 80s in an isolated rural area. There was no internet and certainly no TikTok, so we’d end up getting trends months later than other parts of the country, after they were already trending downward. We’d usually hear about them from the TV news…Tom Brokaw or some local anchor on channel 4 telling us about Rubik’s Cubes or valley girls or hacky sacks or parachute pants. She thought that was hilarious: teens hearing from adults about what teens thought was cool. We had it so hard back in the day — our memes delivered by adults, weeks late!

Discussion  8 comments

Jack Hays

As an adult man who owns the Owala version of this - I feel a little silly with it sometimes because I don't particularly like being on-trend, but: the bit about the accessible straw promoting more water drinking is 100% true for me too, and is the reason I got it, along with the fact that it is the largest water bottle that fits in my car's cupholder, again leading to more hydration!

Jason KottkeMOD

Did I just place a Stanley Quencher in my online shopping cart? Possibly!

Matt L.

I didn't know about the exclusive collaborations. I bought the Stanley because Project Farm tested tumblers, and the Stanley came out on top. It's well made.

Allister Banks

I know you only mentioned it in passing, but hacky sacks - I found one at a 'folk art' museum gift shop, if you want to feel PETRIFIED old, and so of course I bought it and started re-learning how to use it (I am no match for teenager me, but I can get a double-digit rally every 10 or so tries!)
And being of a similar 'vintage' (read == I too am one of the olds) I recall Big Johnson/Air Jesus t-shirts sold at my mall's equivalent of Hot Topic, Pacific Sunwear. And the pharmacy on the Main Street of my small-ish suburb town trying to convince ~10 year old me that snap/slap bracelets were A Thing I should buy into. Whereas high school was truly abstract bizarre (also rampant commercially-spawned) things like... I shit you not, Absolute magazine(!) ads? My brain hurts crawling back into such crusted, dusty crevices 😅

Andrew Lilja

Ryan Broderick had a really cogent look at this a few weeks ago.

My reference point for this kind of marketing is the Myspace era of music and fashion, when record companies and stores like Hot Topic and Spencer’s Gifts were using early social media to identify niche fandoms and convert them into mainstream hits. In this allegory, Target has become the Hot Topic of white women with disposable income. And their fingerless gloves and zipper pants are fun water bottles and that one perfume everyone in Manhattan is wearing right now.


i am a recently recovering educator who only does some recreational substituting here and there for my own amusement. the majority of my work had been in 6th grade teaching math, science, and social studies. i retired earlier than i had intended because cancer. i have since specialized in long-term gigs, generally for maternity leave. in all of my positions i have seen fads sweep through and pass on. i have also seen how important that personal connection can be to passing on fads. in 2016 one of my students went to los angeles for christmas and came back with a hot dance that had just then crossed-over from the avant-garde to to the dancing public. thus, because one little girl went from texas to california st christmas the kids at my school were "flossing" a month before it hit the rest of the state.

Jason KottkeMOD

Modern Seinfeld: the Stanley cup.

Jason KottkeMOD

Saturday Night Live: Big Dumb Cups.

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