Marketing & Branding

How Solo Reinvented the Classic Red Party Cup and Embraced Brand Changes

Ever since I was in high school, I wanted to be part of the cool crowd. And as ridiculous as it sounds, I yearned to attend a party that used those classic red Solo cups. I associated the plastic red cups with having a wonderfully good time, and I wanted to be part of it. Sadly, being a part of that crowd didn’t ever happen for me in high school, but I did I finally have my moment in college at my first campus party.

The point I’m trying to make is not that I’m a party animal (because I’m far from it), but that red Solo cups are likened to college parties, back yard barbecues, and tailgating. When you think of the red Solo cup, you know there will be a good time. But the big question is, why red cups? Why do the red cups make up 60 percent of Solo Cup Company’s sales?

Nobody really knows for sure, but it’s speculated to be because Solo introduced the very first party cup in that color, so red just became the standard. It may also have something to do with red being a gender-less color that signifies intensity and energy — which is perfect for partiers.

Even though Solo is king of this market now, they come from somewhat humble beginnings. Solo Cup Company has been around since the great depression and has since grown into a global $1.6 billion company. It was founded in 1936 by Leo Hulseman on Chicago’s South Side as the Paper Container Manufacturing Company, where they manufactured cone-shaped paper drinking cups. Between the 1940s and 1950s, the Paper Container Manufacturing Company changed its name to the Solo Cup Company and introduced its newest creation, the wax cold cup, which is still used in the food service industry today.

Over the next sixty years, Solo Cup Company invented new items, went global, perfected current items, and even created artistic history. In the 1980s, Solo developed the well-known Traveler lid found in coffee shops all around the world. The design of this lid was so innovative that it actually became a part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art!

Beer Pong
Solo cups are staples in several popular games.

In 2009, Solo Cup Company made a big risky move: they squared the bottom of their classic red party cup. Representatives of the company said the change was made because it was becoming difficult distinguishing one red plastic cup from another. The company says the square design and newly added grips make it easier to hold and solves the slippery when wet problem. They also claim to not market their products for drinking games, however they’ve added strength and structure to the cups making me wonder if they knew it would appeal more to beer pong and flippy cup enthusiasts. Not a bad marketing move if you ask me. The cups will be used for these activities, so why not cash it on it?

Everyone has in some way been involved with a red Solo cup. They are dependable, recyclable, and recognizable and you can find them everywhere from homes, fast food restaurants, and even the White House. Red party cups even have songs about them.

What we can learn from Solo:

  • Embrace change and evolve gracefully. Solo has come a long way since manufacturing conical paper cups in the 1930s and 1940s, and their brand wouldn’t be as strong today if they hadn’t expanded their product catalog! Try to keep up with trends while staying true to your original purpose.
  • Distinguish yourself from the competition. The square-bottomed red cups separate Solo from competing brands even further. Find that quality that distinguishes you from competitors and play it up in advertisements as best you can.
  • Consider customers’ needs before making major changes. Solo does research on consumer habits before releasing new products for purchase, and you should do the same. If you don’t know what people are looking for, then how can you make the best decisions?

Can you remember your first red party cup experience? Have you seen the new square shaped cups? Do you like it, or prefer the original cylinder shape? Let us know in the comments below!

Image credit to Solo Cup Company on Facebook and SVTHERLAND.