The 110-year-old central product of US food and beverage container brand Stanley is deceptively simple – thermal drink bottles and cups that only vary in colour, shape and size. But it has now undergone a viral transformation.

Its simplicity is underlined by a focus on quality and functionality. The patented bottles are vacuum-insulated and made from stainless steel, a sustainable material that allows the brand to offer a lifetime warranty.

The key to Stanley’s viral success has been a marketing switch-up, proving that transformation is still possible for legacy brands in today’s rapidly changing retail market.

A change in marketing

Given the brand’s focus on functionality, its products were originally marketed to outdoor workmen. This consumer base has provided steady sales for Stanley since 1913, but the catalyst for change came almost a century later, in 2020.

The brand hired former Crocs CEO Terence Reilly, whose industry expertise had already transformed the rubber shoes into a must-have item. Reilly focused on Stanley’s Quencher product, a 40-ounce insulated cup with a handle and straw.

With the help of influencer marketing, the Quencher has remained Stanley’s top product since 2020. The brand has also been able to ride the global wave of eco-consciousness, which has seen consumers abandon single-use drink bottles in favour of reusable containers.

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The outlook for Stanley and its viral cup

Stanley has seen its annual revenue grow from $73m in 2019 to more than $750m, after the redesigned Quencher models in more than 100 colours became something of a fashion accessory.

A crucial marketing move came in a viral video posted on TikTok in 2023, which showed the remains of a burned car with the Stanley Quencher sitting undamaged in the cupholder. The brand was swift to capitalise on this opportunity, offering the owner a new Stanley cup and a new car.

Some consumers now have Stanley cup collections, and the brand has collaborated with behemoths such as Starbucks. Recently, retailer Target had to place limits of two cups per customer due to demand.

Even if the bubble bursts, Stanley has still found the sweet spot between a simple but quality product and clever marketing. Demand for the viral Quencher is likely to continue in 2024 and Stanley will be looking to redesign its other products, which include tumblers, mugs and kitchenware.