Stanley’s trend begs the question: Why do we love our special cups so much?

Everyone has seen videos of people (presumably normal, functioning members of society) inciting desperate mosh pits at Target or performing at Starbucks with limited-edition Stanley 1913 cups.

On social media, Stanley collectors show off shelves of their rainbow-hued stainless steel treasures or rave about silicone stickers and embellishments to personalize their favorite mugs. Even those lucky enough to avoid the commotion have probably seen enough giant hydration totems in the wild to capture the cultural moment ahead.

The Stanley 1913 brand has been around for more than a century, but in recent years the company has expanded its signature line of humble green everyday glasses to a limitless variety of colors, designs and collaborations that are so popular they almost incite violence.

It’s no secret that good marketing (mostly aimed at women, via social media) has been behind the cups’ recent surge in popularity. However, the question that is more difficult to answer is why people go so crazy over something as simple as a basic container, an item that works as well, more or less, as any old thermos in the back of the cabinet .

Humans have been putting their drinks in cup-like objects for all of recorded history. Why do some of us pay $45 to $55 each or push aside other buyers for the same privilege?

I take, therefore I am

Charles Lindsey, associate professor of marketing at the University at Buffalo School of Management, says it’s human nature to want something new.

“We’re looking for novel experiences, and while that could mean a trip to a place we’ve never been, it could also mean collecting different mugs,” he says. “From a consumer behavior standpoint, we’re always bringing variety and new things into our lives.”

Consumers are often savvy enough that simply adding a new color or design isn’t enough to set off the “gotta have it” alarm bells. That insatiable need for FOMO, Lindsey says, often comes from clever marketing.

“The fear of missing out is a particularly powerful psychological tool,” he says, “and we see it affecting everything from financial markets to, yes, drinks.”

When considering a brand refresh in 2020, Stanley global president Terence Reilly specifically targeted women as a potential new consumer base. Then, with a new color palette and designs, the company relied on trusted social media influencers to spread the word.

That network of trust and recommendation, says Lindsey, generates expectation. “People see people whose tastes they trust try something new, and that item becomes a symbol of social status and being ‘in the know.'”

The strategy worked. Stanley’s 40-ounce Quencher mug gained wide popularity for its variety of candy-like colors and its ability to keep drinks hot and cold for long periods of time.

Once the cups took off on social media, Stanley Annual Sales It reportedly jumped from $75 million to $750 million in 2023 alone. CNN has contacted Stanley for comment.

Yes, it’s just a cup. But for many people it represents something bigger.

But why cups, specifically? Ironically, Stanley’s fad might be less notable if it weren’t the latest in a long line of mug-related trends. Brands like Yeti, Nalgene, Hydroflask, and Starbucks have inspired a cult following, and the occasional public disturbances – for their glasses.

“It’s just a cup, but if you think about it, money is just paper,” says Lindsey. “It’s just a cup, but it represents something symbolic. It represents something aspirational. It represents being part of a group, an affiliation or a lifestyle.”

Lindsey also cites the endowment effecta psychology term used in marketing to describe an item that someone owns that becomes more valuable to that person over time.

“As you use something and get used to it, it becomes more valuable to you,” says Lindsey. “In this case you get used to the cups, the colors, and it becomes habitual.”

And what’s more common than a trusty glass of water, clutched during a morning walk or nestled in the car cupholder during an errand?

That the cups are so simple, so necessary, may be the key to why they are also the object of so many consumer fantasies. Ordinary meets aspirational as social media posts add a shiny new Stanley mug to a lifestyle marked by Clean, responsible and well hydrated order..

The usual becomes even more powerful when it merges with the novel in the form of novelties, hard-to-find colors and that always powerful fear of missing out.

If you look at that equation, it’s never just a cup. Is he cup. It’s a favorite mug, a new mug, a go-to mug, the mug everyone is jealous of, the mug that will solve all of life’s problems and bring us closer to our ideal self.

Whether it’s a Stanley brand mug or the Holy Grail itself is beside the point. It has whatever meaning we believe and pay $45 for.


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