The Stanley Cup Craze: Is Viral the Way To Go?

stanley cup craze

Going viral on social media is seen as a golden ticket to success, and many small businesses produce content constantly, hoping someday one of those YouTube shorts, Instagram Reels or TikTok videos will bring them a massive influx of new clients and growth. 

I can’t blame these businesses for thinking like this because there are many cases where going viral translates into sudden fame and revenue. One of the most recent and relevant examples of viral success is Stanley and their infamous quencher tumblers that, leaving the absurd levels of consumerism and obsession that have been created aside, is a fascinating exemplification of how viral content can propel a company from modest performance to multi-million dollar stardom. 

We’re going to make an overview of how the Stanley Cup craze began and what lessons small businesses can learn from it. 

The Stanley Cup Obsession: A Stroke of Luck

Stanley is an American company that sells beverage and food containers. It was established in 1913 after its founder, William Stanley Jr., invented the all-steel portable vacuum bottle, commonly known as the Stanley bottle, with the capacity to keep your drink of choice hot or cold for hours as its main feature.

In its 110 years of history, the company has targeted its products to male workers and people participating in outdoor activities and had no plans of changing that until the group of women behind The Buy Guide, a shopping recommendations blog and social media, started to recommend the 40-Oz Stanley Quencher Tumbler to their mainly female audience in 2017 after testing it and loving its features and quality.

The buy guide's Stanley cup first IG post

The Buy Guide’s first Instagram post in November 2017, recommending the Stanley Quencher. 

(It’s funny that the latest commenters are not into the Stanley Love train. We’ll discuss this down below.)

While The Buy Guide’s promotion was successful, and their followers started to buy the Tumbler every time they saw it featured on the blog, the company had no clue this was happening. Furthermore, this particular product wasn’t a priority for them, which meant many of the interested buyers couldn’t find any Stanley Quencher in the main retailers and the fear of the product being discontinued. 

The social media noise finally reached Stanley executives’ ears and contacted The Buy Guide’s team. If you think the next part of this story is about an influencer collaboration, you are completely wrong because this company wasn’t familiar with this tactic. That’s why the next best thing they offered to The Buy Guide was placing a wholesale order to sell the quenchers on their own—the 10,000 units they bought sold in less than a week.

This unforeseen rise in popularity was happening while Stanley was going through a leadership transition, and the new executives saw the potential the quencher had to target the hydration trend that was starting to make its way on social media. 

With the help of The Buy Guide, they crafted a new strategy, with influencer and affiliate marketing among the main tactics, expanding its audience to women and portraying the quencher as an everyday item to take with you everywhere to stay hydrated. Stanley also revamped their production process, modernizing the quencher’s design and adopting the drop limited-edition strategy to exploit the scarcity effect and build public expectations. These decisions turned the quenchers into a collectible item and a healthy lifestyle icon.

Fast forwarding to the present, with the hydration trend booming and becoming #WaterTok, social media viral word-of-mouth, and the post-pandemic renaissance of collecting as a hobby had resulted in the Stanley quencher’s immense success (taking the company’s revenue from $70 million to $750 million in four years,) and the craze for getting as many of these cups as possible that we’re seeing today. 

American Stanley Cup fans went on a stampede to their local Target to get their hands on the Stanley’s “Galentine’s Day” edition.

Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn From the Stanley Case

Now that we’ve described how Stanley reached this point, it’s safe to conclude that this happened because many factors converged and worked in the company’s favour; they weren’t chasing viral stardom. However, they did know (and could) how to adapt to this sudden surge in demand and did a great job taking advantage of this sudden opportunity overall. 

After analyzing this fascinating case, there are some valuable insights small businesses can learn from it:

1 – Not Every Business Can Handle Viral Demand

Stanley is an exception, not the norm. If a product or service becomes extremely popular overnight due to virality, businesses may struggle to meet the sudden increase in demand. Stanley is a well-established company with resources most small businesses don’t have and was able to adapt quickly to the unexpected situation they saw themselves in. 

If your products go viral and your business fails to meet people’s expectations, virality can backfire and lead to disappointed customers, backorders, lost sales opportunities, and even brand reputation damage.

One example of a small business facing sudden demand and being unable to handle it is Ivory Paper Co., An American company that sells planners and stationery supplies. A little while after its establishment in 2019, they faced a sudden demand that overwhelmed the new business and ended in legal actions from angry customers demanding refunds and a social media storm of people calling them out for the poor service they got. 

Luckily, Ivory Paper Co. survived this backlash, and it’s still afloat today, but this situation could easily have ended with the business closure.

2 – Your Business May Face Controversy 

Viral content rarely comes without controversy, and the Stanley case is no different. The media and many netizens are already questioning the over-consumerism this situation is causing, saying that, understandably so, the whole purpose of a reusable water bottle is lost when people buy dozens to collect them. 

Another controversy Stanley is facing is the increasing concern regarding the lead content in the cups. This issue started in March 2023 after lead poisoning prevention advocate Tamara Rubin published the test results on the 40 Oz. Quencher Tumbler, in which she detected “unsafe/hazardous levels of lead in the exterior bottom “sealing dot.” of the Tumbler. 

In contrast, Stanley states that their drinkware has “some lead” to seal the vacuum insulation that keeps the drinks’ temperature. The lead concerns have been gaining momentum, resulting in four women filing a lawsuit against Stanley in California and outraged people doing their own lead tests and tossing their tumblers to the trash can on TikTok. 

In Stanley’s defence, some other companies use lead to insulate their bottles; the problem is that Stanley has the viral product getting the public’s attention, hence being the one with a tarnished reputation.

Companies have little to no control over viral content once it’s out there, making controlling the narrative quite challenging. User-generated content and comments will take on a life of their own in viral events, potentially steering the conversation in a detrimental direction to the brand.

3 – Viral Success Isn’t Sustainable

Virality fame never lasts forever. The Stanley craze will go away once people find the next hottest thing available, and some signs are pointing out that this is already happening. According to Casey Lewis, a youth consumer analyst, Stanley has already reached its peak, and it’s on its way out because the trend has reached little kids, tweens, elder millennials and other adults, meaning that the “trendsetter” youth will move on soon.

While I believe Stanley will be fine and sit comfortably in its market niche, its example showcases the importance of small businesses looking beyond the allure of the instant success virality can give and focusing on long-term and sustainable growth that won’t be out of trend anytime soon.

Your Small Business Went Viral? Some Tips to Make the Best Out of It

Whether or not you were looking for it, your business may go viral overnight and face a massive stream of new clients. These are our recommendations to take advantage of it while minimizing the potential damages of virality to help you keep those new clients and drive growth:

Whether or not you were looking for it, your business may go viral overnight and face a massive stream of new clients. These are our recommendations to take advantage of it while minimizing the potential damages of virality to help you keep those new clients and drive growth:

  • Manage expectations: Set realistic customer expectations regarding order fulfillment times, shipping costs, and product availability. Be transparent about any limitations that may impact the customer experience and provide proactive updates on order status to keep customers in the loop.
  • Optimize customer service: Make customer service the top priority to handle the influx of inquiries, requests, and complaints. Provide detailed and personalized responses to customer inquiries to ensure their satisfaction. Being honest and vulnerable with your customers regarding the spike in demand you’re experiencing will increase the chances of getting future purchases from them.
  • Monitor and Adjust As Needed: Keep an eye on key performance metrics, such as order volume, fulfillment times, and customer reviews to identify areas for improvement. Use this data to make informed decisions and adjust your strategies as needed to better handle sudden demand fluctuations in the future.
  • Focus on Quality: Despite the pressure to fulfill orders quickly, prioritize quality and customer satisfaction above all else. Ensure that products are thoroughly inspected, packaged securely, and delivered accurately to maintain the trust and loyalty of your new customers.
  • Streamline Processes: This will vary greatly depending on your business niche, offer, and resources, but try to identify bottlenecks in your order fulfillment process and streamline operations to improve efficiency in any way you can. Here are some options that can make a difference when dealing with multiple clients:
  • Automate repetitive tasks: Technology can be your best friend to streamline manual processes whenever possible. This could include implementing software solutions for invoicing, inventory management, emails or a CRM.
  • Cross-Train Employees: Small businesses, owners and staff alike, are no strangers to wearing multiple hats to get things done. Cross-train your employees to perform multiple roles or tasks within the organization. This increases flexibility and agility and ensures that essential functions can continue uninterrupted in the event of staff absences or turnover.
  • Eliminate Non-Essential Tasks: Identify and get rid of non-essential tasks or activities that do not add value to the business or directly contribute to your fulfillment goals. Focus on streamlining processes to reduce waste, minimize redundancy, and optimize your time and resources.
  • Plan for Long-Term Growth: Use the momentum generated by the viral event to fuel long-term growth and sustainability. Invest in infrastructure upgrades, expand your product offerings, and focus on creating long-term relationships with your new customers to capitalize on the opportunity for continued, sustainable success.

Sustainable Growth Outperforms Instant Fame

While going viral can propel a business to unprecedented success, it doesn’t come without its risks. Viral marketing is like a gamble: it has a high element of luck and great chances of backfiring. It can get messy fast.

Despite its potential benefits, small businesses shouldn’t include viral content as the main tactic of their marketing strategy. However, it won’t necessarily hurt your brand if you still want to give it a go. If you prefer less risky but highly effective marketing tactics, we have a free, downloadable PDF with 50 different small business marketing strategies that don’t involve social media for you to try.