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Materialism & The Search for Inclusion

If you’re a typical Target or Walmart shopper, chances are you’ve crossed paths with the ever-so-famous consumerist goldmine: the Stanley cup aisle. With a recent boom in popularity, these tumbler cups have accumulated a grotesquely large audience, most of which are teenage and millennial women. The concept of these reusable cups is nothing new. Water bottles and thermoses have been around forever, all with the same main function, conveniently holding your beverage and retaining its temperature. But it’s something else that makes these Stanley’s so sought after, and it’s not just because of their practical insulation and sleek design. 

Everyone seems to have one. Stanley’s aren’t some niche, gatekept product – they’ve risen from $73 million in revenue in 2019 to $750 million in 2023. It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly this influx of fame has come from, but we can definitely narrow it down to one major starting point: social media. 

When an influencer with a large, impressionable following advertises a product on social media, you can guarantee that several of their fans will flock to purchase one. The psychology behind this is actually quite simple: you’re more likely to buy goods being promoted by someone you know and admire than someone you don’t. The familiarity you feel towards a celebrity or influencer will make the advertised product feel familiar, too. 

It also makes you feel like you relate to this influencer. You, who is a run-of-the-mill student or part time waitress at your local Dennys, has something in common with a viral millionaire model. It makes you feel proud knowing that you own something that such a famous or respectable figure does as well. This leads to a domino effect: the more people buy the product and show it off online, the more likely others are to see this and follow suit. It’s a trend.

Before you know it, everyone has a Stanley. It’s the new thing – who doesn’t have one? Any other water bottle is SO outdated! 

This line of thinking, along with others opinions of you, greatly impacts your purchasing habits. Whether it’s wearing the trendiest clothes or carrying around a huge, overpriced thermos, there’s a common desire to fit in with our peers. We follow trends because it increases our chances of gaining social interaction and appreciation. It creates a sense of universal belonging. 

It’s also a status indicator. If you have a Stanley, you’re automatically seen as someone who keeps up with the latest trends. Now that the rest of the world knows that you’re online and have the money to afford this glorious product, you’re placed into one of two groups: the Stanley havers, and the non Stanley havers. Immediately a hierarchy has been set. One group is silently regarded as superior. 

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to Stanley cups. We see this in new makeup products, skincare, clothing lines, and more. The more we spend, the more reassurance we supposedly get in return that we’re making a smart and trendy decision. This self-fulfilling process will continue to repeat as more desirable products are churned out and our wallets run dry. Mass materialism has never felt so good. 

Congratulations, you’re officially part of the overconsumption cult! 

Now what? A rainbow of Stanley cups sit collecting dust in your kitchen cabinet. You have no where to take the new multi-functional and stylish tote bag you pre-ordered off Amazon. Even the blood orange lip gloss that Kim Kardashian recommended isn’t getting you many compliments. You enter the five stages of consumerist grief: denial, anger, regret, depression, and finally, acceptance. So you gave into the psyop that is consumerist culture. It’s an easy thing to fall into, especially at the height of social media. 

You can try to make an effort to stop this cycle of consuming. Take a step back and think about if you really need this purchase or not. Maybe don’t flip through that new magazine if you feel it’s too tempting. Save the online shopping for another day. Head to your local thrift store. Start decluttering. Check your drawers – maybe your old water bottle is in there.