Main Character of the Week is a weekly column that tells you the most prominent “main character” online (good or bad). It runs on Fridays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.
The internet is a stage, and someone unwillingly stumbles onto it weekly. This makes them the “main character” online. Sometimes their story is heartwarming, like the woman who planned her destination wedding poorly and missed her United flight; usually it’s a gaffe. In any case, that main character energy flows through the news cycle and turbo-charges debate for several business days.
Here’s the Trending team’s main character of the week.
This is one of the easiest calls we’ve had since we began this column in September: It’s the Valentine’s Day Stanley Cup from Target.
Target recently began selling exclusive pink-and-red-colored Stanleys. Since a 2019 influencer marketing push, these stainless steel cups have slowly become must-haves for women who hydrate in the U.S. I noticed their ubiquitous nature at our WeWork last fall when our intern would regularly come in with her “comfort water cup,” a light-green Stanley. (It might have been a Hydroflask and it’s possible that I’m bending the truth for the purposes of this column. I don’t remember. It’s not worth asking Grace about it at this point; she’s still on winter break.)
Anyway, we began covering the cultural shift toward Stanleys to modest web traffic returns six months ago. Even the viral video of a Stanley surviving a car fire, a story we were early to, yielded modest pageviews. This as Stanleys leapfrogged even local brand Yeti as the go-to metal cup in Austin, Texas, where we’re headquartered.
More than 100 years since it became a favorite among construction workers for hot drinks, Stanleys were suddenly inescapable. And when we were able to put both “Stanley” and “Target” into the URLs of stories about the new cup this month, our web traffic exploded.
That’s because, in real life, it’s been Beatlemania for these limited-edition holiday cups. The likes of which we haven’t experienced in American retail since Tickle-Me Elmo hijacked Christmas ‘96.
One woman literally fell scrambling for a Target Stanley and was mercilessly mocked by the workers. Another Target staffer tried to hide a cup for themselves to purchase after work and got busted. A woman who got her hands on one was guilt-tripped by a fellow customer into giving it up. Fans are laminating the labels. Shoppers are fighting over them while waiting in line.
“They’re nice cups but I don’t get it,” someone commented on a video showing customers rushing to nab one.
Yet another Target customer went viral after claiming to have been trampled by Stanley stans.
On Dec. 30, a shopper tried getting their hands on a V-Day Stanley early. But at self-checkout, they received a message saying the item could not yet be sold. This blog’s viral success began our editorial strategy of “pivot to Stanley.”
“Let me go check real quick,” a Target worker told me late Thursday when I called my local Target in South Austin and asked if they had any. Their reply was more hopeful than I expected.
Ten minutes later, they returned and said the Stanley were sold out. I asked if they’d get any more before V-Day. They said the Guest Services team has no way of knowing.
“They have some system where they just send us product, depending on our location, how big our store is, stuff like that,” the Target worker told me.
“I even checked at all the other Austin locations and they’re out of stock,” they added.
What happens next for these cups? Backlash. I imagine some guy on TikTok will try to cancel them and we’ll have to look into viral, unverified, and conspiratorial medical claims and probably ask a doctor about whether drinking carbonated beverages in Stanleys gives you lead poisoning.