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Stanley cups: What are they, and why are they so popular?

(NEXSTAR) — Chances are, when it comes to the viral Stanley cups, you’re in one of three positions: a big fan, confused by the obsession, or unsure what Stanley tumblers even are. 

Regardless of where you stand, let’s revisit what happened earlier this week. 

Videos began circulating online of people, mostly women, were seen standing outside Target stores or pouncing on the displays of some limited edition Stanley cups. One customer even claimed that a “brawl” broke out.

The pink and red tumblers in question were part of a special release ahead of Valentine’s Day. Stanley partnered with Starbucks to create a variety for just under $50. The mugs are no longer available for purchase online, and Starbucks told Nexstar in a statement that the limited-edition Starbucks x Stanley Quencher will not be restocked once it has sold out. 

Still confused about what a Quencher is and why people can’t get enough of them? Let’s explain. 

Stanley isn’t a new brand at all: it celebrated its 110th anniversary last year. According to the drinkware company’s website, William Stanley Jr. “fused vacuum insulation and the strength of steel in one portable bottle, inventing the all-steel vacuum bottle we know and love today.”

For years, Stanley sold thermoses, much like the one pictured below next to a Quencher. You can still find them for sale, intermingled with the tumblers you’re likely more familiar with today. 

A Stanley thermo beside a Stanley Quencher. (Bill Disbrow/Nexstar)

It’s those tumblers that are now taking the Internet (and your local Target) by storm.

It’s safe to argue that word of mouth helped bring the Stanley Quencher back to the forefront. Yes, you read that right — even the Stanley Quencher isn’t a new product. 

The Quencher, a stainless-steel tumbler that comes in five sizes ranging from 14 ounces to 64 ounces, has been available since the mid-2010s. It wasn’t seeing much success though, and the company stopped stocking it online, Terence Reilly, the global president of Stanley, told The New York Times in 2022. 

“The Buy Guide,” an e-commerce blog and Instagram account run by Ashlee LeSueur, Taylor Cannon, and Linley Hutchinson, is largely credited for helping to bring the Quencher back in 2020, according to The New York Times. The trio, after agreeing to buy 5,000 Quenchers from Stanley and selling all of them, struck a deal with the company and continued promoting the product. 

Last year, when recounting the 5,000 Quenchers deal, LeSueur told CNBC said the move was “a big risk.”

The overall sales continued to perform well, and, as you may have guessed, more and more people began promoting and posting about their Stanley Quenchers. 

There are a number of reasons why an item like these Stanley cups can become such a huge hit. Word of mouth can make (or break) a brand, according to Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He previously explained to the Journal of Consumer Research that there are six principles that can help drive what people are talking about, mostly related to how we’re perceived by others. If everyone has a Stanley, then you may feel the need to have a Stanley. If a blogger or influencer you’re following has a Stanley, you’ll likely want one too. 

A pair of Stanley Quenchers sporting accessories — the straw toppers — that have become available through other companies. (Christina Nowakowski)

Another notable part of the story? Stanley started catering to an audience they didn’t originally focus on: women. Their previous thermoses were arguably more manly, while the Quenchers have seemingly attracted the attention of women, CNBC notes

Now, Stanley Quenchers are highly-coveted items (remember the chaos we mentioned at Target above?). They’ve even become the brand’s most popular option, unseating the aforementioned green thermos. 

The variation has also made a big difference on Stanley’s revenue. CNBC reports that, based on available data, Stanley’s annual sales in 2023 could top $750 million — vastly more than the $73 million the company reported in 2019.

Resale markets also appear to be profiting. If you weren’t able to get a Valentine’s Day-edition Stanley Quencher this week, there are some available on eBay with price tags exceeding $100. 

And while the company aims to create “sustainable products” that reduce the “demand for disposable products,” some Quencher stans say they don’t even use the bottles. 

“They’re too pretty to use,” one Stanley fan, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Nexstar. Instead, they use one or two from their collection of more than a dozen.

Stanley tumblers aren’t the first item to go viral thanks to social media, and they likely won’t be the last. So if you missed the Starbucks x Stanley release, have no fear: there will undoubtedly be a new color available soon.

Also, the Stanley brand on your drinkware isn’t the same as the yellow-and-black Stanley tools. Although, maybe Stanley hammers will be the next viral item.

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