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Can Stanley avoid the ‘Ugg trap’? Only if it can embrace the silly

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By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

March 13, 2024 | 8 min read

The drinkware brand is at a critical juncture after seeing its revenues jump from $70m to $750m in 2023 to now being the butt of jokes. Backlash is expected when brands are thrust into culture, but the question is, what should Stanley do now?

SNL sketch with the cast holding a big version of a Stanley cup

Stanley mocked in SNL sketch / SNL YouTube

The Stanley Quencher solidified its place in pop culture (for all the wrong reasons) when it became part of SNL sketch titled ‘Big Dumb Cup.’ Then there are the countless articles (even on The Drum) claiming we’ve reached peak Stanley and TikTok is full of Quencher-related parody content.

All eyes are on the 110-year-old brand to see how it steers itself through the hype to retain brand equity when the fad dies down.

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It may be a brand that was built on the outdoorsy and lumberjack shirt-clad community, but the industry experts we spoke to said it shouldn’t be afraid of alienating its original audience and should embrace the ridiculousness of its new-found fame.

“Does it look like a blown-up sippy cup? Yes. Does it work? Absolutely. Is it ridiculous? Very, but it’s the kind of silly ridiculous that we might all need more of,” yes says Dena Walker, chief strategy officer at Above+Beyond.

The Quencher grew organically through parenting and lifestyle bloggers before Stanley took notice and set up an affiliate program to capitalize on its newfound fandom. The business also started developing new colors and prints exclusively for this new audience as well as collaborating with the likes of Starbucks and Target.

“For now, it seems Stanley is leaning in and injecting the brand with not just renewed salience, but also a bit fun and personality,” Walker says. “Hopefully, we’ll get to see another legacy brand enjoy its renaissance and stretch into other seemingly bonkers forms that meet the desire for evolving function. Who knows what they’ll come up with next, or if it will be another TikTok smash hit, but I’m already amused at the idea of what it might be.”

Morgan Holt, chief strategy officer at Saffron Brand Consultants, is equally as optimistic about Stanley’s chance at survival – if it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

“This doesn’t mean becoming a disco dad and making a fool of yourself, but creating a clever campaign that acknowledges the fad and does something new with it. If a brand can demonstrate its maturity to take the joke somewhere new, it can present itself as self-aware and straightforward,” Holt says.

Holt uses Ikea as an example when it initially tried to quash the trend of upcycling its furniture into new items, which it eventually jumped on and into a recycling story. Or KFC, which rearranged the letters of its name to spell ‘FCK’ in response to its restaurants having to close due to a shortage of chicken.

“While there has been some backlash in pop culture, it is essential to remember that any popular product is bound to receive a combination of both praise and criticism,” Holt says. “Humor is the best response. Stanley has the opportunity to create engaging content that acknowledges this perspective and showcases the product’s solid track history. This will be how the brand solidifies its stance within the market post-TikTok trend.”

‘Don’t fall into the Ugg trap’

Stanley Quencher with Stanley Quencher straw toppers

A whole ecosystem popped up around the Stanley Quencher, with Etsy selling everything from straw clips to personalized cups, ‘silicon boots’ (a rubber hand grip), straps and bride-to-be lids. But Household’s co-founder and strategy director Michelle Du-Prât notes that Stanley is missing from this ecosystem.

“All of these sorts of businesses have grown up around this product itself, creating experiences that people are enjoying with their Stanley cup, but it doesn’t have any ownable experiences attached to it,” Du-Prât says. Stanley has a clothing range and sells branded stickers, but Du-Prât says these moves have felt more “corporate.”

Du-Prât referenced the strategy of Crocs, which she claims used to be “faddy,” praising it for its clever brand collaborations and Croc accessories like giblets (those plastic things stuck into the Croc holes). “[Crocs] has greater audience appeal to have the fun flagship, but also to still serve the medical world,” she adds.

“Stanley instead needs to understand the true diversity of how it can appeal in so many different ways and create the experiences and communities that live around those different fandoms; that’s the opportunity,” she says. “There’s so much fear that Stanley is going to move away from its core audience but it is a product that everyone can enjoy but in different ways.”

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President of the brand consultancy Coley Porter Bell, Jenn Szekely, says Stanley risks falling into the “Ugg trap.” “That brand blew up but then went through over a decade of being uncool until its recent comeback.”

It’s hard not to see cues from competitor brands such as Yeti, Szekely says. “Stanley has been very smart in how it has marketed itself, but the Yeti factor is something the brand should pay attention to. The minute Yeti begins to get more sophisticated with its marketing and international growth, it will start to pose more of a threat to Stanley,” he says.

Yeti’s marketing chief, Paulie Dery, has previously told The Drum that he fears handing over control to influencers. “If you are at the whim of influencers, TikTok or celebrities, you are not 100% controlling the narrative of your brand – and that is terrifying. I love that celebrities love us and that they want to do stuff with us, but is that good for us long term? No, I don’t think so.”

Szekely advises Stanley to “safeguard” itself from the “rising threat of Yeti” and to lean into its heritage as an “innovator and a company founded by creating firsts.”

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