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Stanley Cup Part 2: Social Media can be a Double Edged Sword

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The One Minute Risk Manager/ERM/Stanley Cup Part 2: Social Media can be a Double Edged Sword
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Social media can be unpredictable, offering a spotlight one moment and casting shadows the next. This rings especially true for the Stanley cup, the oversized, colorful insulated tumbler that has gained immense popularity online. With countless social media posts raising concerns about the presence of lead in the manufacturing of Stanley cups, the brand's transparency on this matter is crucial. Despite the controversy, the Stanley cup continues to be a sought-after item, highlighting the complex relationship between social media buzz and consumer perceptions.

At the base of every insulated Stanley product includes a protective stainless-steel barrier that encases a lead-based solder, necessary for sealing the cup and maintaining its vacuum insulation technology. While the exact lead content within this sealed metal component remains undisclosed, experts suggest that as long as the barrier remains intact and the lead is not accessible, there is no cause for concern.

Tamara Rubin, the founder of Lead Safe Mama, sparked the recent uproar surrounding lead content in Stanley tumblers. Her organization aims to raise awareness about lead poisoning and promote lead-safe choices for consumers after her own son suffered from lead poisoning as a baby. In March of 2023, Rubin posted about the presence of lead in Stanley tumblers, igniting a wave of concern. By August, TikTok users began sharing videos testing their Stanley tumblers for lead using kits purchased online. One particularly viral video, which has since been taken down, showed a mother testing the lead solder under Stanley's protective cap, attracting 2.2 million views. This trend resurfaced on Facebook in January, when influencer Casey Janette Russell claimed that her home lead test on Stanley cups yielded positive results. However, experts caution against relying solely on these tests.

"So just confirmed that the Stanley is leaded," @leadsafemama_2022 announced in a video uploaded last year. The woman then used a LeadCheck swab, which turns pink if the lead present is bioavailable, to further test the Stanley cup. The swab did turn pink shortly after contact with the bottom of the cup.

In response to the videos, Stanley posted information on their website to alleviate concerns

At Stanley, one of the key features of our products is our vacuum insulation technology, which provides consumers with drinkware that keeps beverages at the ideal temperature. Our manufacturing process currently employs the use of an industry standard pellet to seal the vacuum insulation at the base of our products; the sealing material includes some lead. Once sealed, this area is covered with a durable stainless steel layer, making it inaccessible to consumers. Rest assured that no lead is present on the surface of any Stanley product that comes into contact with the consumer nor the contents of the product. In the rare occurrence the base cap of a product comes off due to ordinary use and exposes this seal, it is eligible for our Lifetime Warranty, available here: https://www.stanley1913.com/pages/contact-warranty

​Stanley assures that its products meet all US regulatory requirements including Prop65. Stanley tests for and validates compliance on all products through FDA accredited 3rd party labs that verify our products follow strict guidelines including but not limited to BPA/BPS, PFOS, and phthalate regulatory requirements.

A Stanley spokesperson indicated its engineering and supply chain teams “are making progress on innovative, alternative materials for use in the sealing process.” It should be noted that there are many other high profile companies, such as Owala and Hydro Flask, which are currently lead-free.

Stanley is facing a new lawsuit alleging that the company misled customers by failing to warn them about the potential risks of exposure due to damage to the vacuum seal and by not disclosing the amount of lead present in each cup. The lawsuit, filed in February 2023, claims that Stanley's parent company, Pacific Market International, did not acknowledge the presence of lead in the products until January 2023. In response, Stanley stated that they would vigorously defend themselves against what they consider to be baseless claims and reiterated that there is no lead on the surface of any Stanley product that comes into contact with consumers or their contents.

Looking at the situation from an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) standpoint, the critical question arises: How did Stanley's leadership overlook the potential risk involved in this case? If they were aware of the risk, their public response to the crisis does not reflect this awareness. A thorough risk register could have identified this as a reputational risk issue. It is worth noting that the new Stanley tumblers are predominantly targeted towards women, which studies have shown are more environmentally conscious. While some tumbler manufacturers may use lead due to its cost-effectiveness, Stanley could have set itself apart by promoting itself as lead-free from the start. Despite the recent efforts to explore alternative materials for the sealing process, this could have been implemented much earlier. The fact that other similar tumbler products on the market are lead-free suggests that Stanley could have made the switch sooner.

​One other notable issue is Stanley's response to social media postings. The company acknowledged the influence of social media in driving product demand, yet they lacked a proactive plan to address potential negative feedback on their products. The first negative TikTok post emerged in March 2023, but Stanley's public response did not come until January 2024, and it was delivered through a post on their website. A well-prepared crisis communication strategy should have been established earlier to anticipate and manage such issues. While facing a potential lawsuit was likely inevitable, addressing the matter sooner could have mitigated excessive media attention and potentially reduced costs.

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