My Stanley cup runneth over with concern for TikTok generation

Perhaps all the 'gens' after millennials have only technology and trends to keep them occupied, but it sounds exhausting

Stanley Cup devotees share their collections and the lengths they'll go to to buy limited-edition versions on social media. Photo: @doesnttiktok / TikTok; Stanley; @jazzedbyjaz / TikTok
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If you had “insulated cup becomes latest social media status symbol sparking mini riots in shops as people with too much time on their hands step on one another’s faces to get one” on your 2024 bingo card, then congratulations.

Tick it off and pat yourself on the back for your Cassandra-like ability before we collectively witness the imminent collapse of society. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it. It’s just a cup and I’m still tired after the winter break.

The Stanley cup, a stainless-steel drink receptacle (as opposed to the championship trophy awarded to the National Hockey League champions) has, over the past few months, become the must-have item to pose with on TikTok and Instagram.

Buoyed by the release of a recent limited edition – named the “Galentine’s Day” – these pink and red versions of the cup caused stampedes at Target shops across the US at the beginning of the month.

Videos posted to TikTok show people queuing from 4am, rushing through the doors to grab the $45 cup and nearly overrunning the store and each other. All for the privilege of being a guileless plaything of late-stage capitalist consumerism. Have we learnt nothing from NFTs?

The Quencher is the brand’s flagship bottle, distinguishable from its other offerings, the IceFlow, and the Water Bottle, by its built-in straw and handle.

The stainless steel behemoth, coming in at 1,200ml, is huge. Succession’s Tom Wambsgans would not approve of this “ludicrously capacious” cup, but in internet aesthetic terms, the size is very much the point, making its Lululemon-wearing owner look even more petite and cutesy clutching it.

The vacuum flask wasn’t always a style statement. Created in 1913 by American physicist and inventor William Stanley Jr, and mass-produced by 1915, the Stanley bottle was initially aimed at blue-collar workers who wanted to keep their cooked lunch warm throughout the workday. During the Second World War, it was carried by pilots and submariners and was later used to transport human organs and medicines.

But honestly, most people used it simply to keep their coffee hot.

This staple of the workman’s bag would eventually move indoors to be tossed on the floor at the gym along with a towel, or found on a colleague’s desk, marking them out as the person in the office who spent 10 minutes each day systematically draining the water cooler to fill the thing.

Then along came the “VSCO girl”, named after the VSCO photography app they used to edit and post photos. The hot-for-a-minute internet aesthetic replicated and aped around the globe by those insatiable arbiters of pop culture: teenage girls.

In the same way that subcultures throughout history have been identifiable by a single item – 1940s bobby soxer socks, punk mohawks, goth eyeliner – one of the VSCO girl’s most coveted accessories was her water bottle.

There's an anonymous quote that often resurfaces on social media, concerning recent generations. “We are the middle children of history,” it goes, “born too late to explore Earth, born too early to explore space.”

This definition of the apparent lack of purpose faced by generations Z and Alpha makes sense.

The so-called Greatest Generation were shaped by two world wars, boomers by the space race, Gen X by vast political and cultural upheaval, millennials by the rise of the internet. Each shift giving birth to a brave new world to be explored and, if necessary, survived.

What do generations Z and Alpha have? Social media.

New limited-edition product releases are their Neil Armstrong on the Moon. A live-streamed fight to buy the product their fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Stanley cup is a perfect case in point. When WaterTok arrived with an, ahem, splash, on TikTok in mid-2023, the hashtag took something we had all previously given little thought to beyond: “I wonder which Hunger Games district I’ll represent when the world’s water runs out”, and turned it into a Thing. Capital T.

WaterTok spawned hundreds of thousands of ways to drink, serve, flavour, pour and cool H2O, meaning influencers needed a way to show they could not only drink water more inspirationally than their audience, but contain it in a more aesthetically pleasing way too.

The Stanley Quencher cup was already available in an array of colours – the method by which companies in the internet age get digital natives to buy the same item over and over – and it took Stanley's annual sales from US$70 million in 2019 to $750 million in 2023, thanks to young, mostly female, buying power.

Further shaping Stanley Cup lore was an American woman, Danielle Lettering.

In November 2023, Lettering went viral after her car caught fire by the side of the road. Sharing a video of the burnt rubber, destroyed dashboard and scorched seats, Danielle showed that her Stanley Cup had not only survived the fire, but that the ice inside it hadn’t melted.

Stanley not only presented her with a new cup, but also a new car.

@danimarielettering

Thirsty after you catch on fire? @Stanley 1913 is like no problem i gotchu #fyp #carfire #accident #stanleycup

♬ original sound - Danielle

All of which brings us to a point in history where videos titled “Organise my Stanley Cups with me” – where do I sign up? – garner millions of views, while rarities and limited editions fetch up to $450 on the resale market.

Hydration as status, coupled with the irony of a reusable product meant to promote environmentalism being a cause of overconsumption; for clout-chasers, sorry, devotees, the Quencher represents the bestest, shiniest version of themselves in tumbler form.

The message is clear: I hydrate, therefore I am (better than you).

Updated: January 19, 2024, 6:37 PM