Yeti coolers are luxury products for brothers
Two months ago, I received a text describing a situation that I could see immediately and clearly in my mind. “All those guys at this bachelor party brought their own Yetis,” my friend David wrote. “We have seven Yetis for every ten people.” The party was held at a house in Lake Norman, North Carolina, and although the Yeti-to-bro ratio was later revised down to six Yetis to 12 bros, my take on what was going on was clear. Sun. Boats. Beers. Just guys being guys.
A Yeti, for the uninitiated, is a cooler made by the company of the same name based in Austin, Texas. But it’s not only any cooler. The brand’s sidekicks – and there are plenty of them – will seemingly take any opportunity to tell you that the Yetis are the best coldest coolers money can buy. With prices starting at $250 for enough space to get drunk a small barbecue and going all the way up to $1,500 for one so huge it could be used to host an outdoor wedding, coolers are no good. market. Yeti fan enthusiasm can be hard to argue, though, not least because you probably don’t know anything about coolers. Me, for example, no.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the company’s products — first hard-sided coolers, and now insulated backpacks, water bottles and cocktail glasses, and other equipment from outdoors – to become surprisingly resonant status symbols. Yeti has the kind of sales growth that would smear any Silicon Valley venture capitalist: In 2011, five years after the company was founded, it had $29 million in revenue, according to Yeti. By 2021, the company had gone public and had annual revenue of $1.4 billion. That success was built on popular products, yes, but any successful branding exercise is just as philosophical as it is functional. Yeti’s philosophical bet seems to be that we’d all like to spend more time outdoors with our brothers, and that deep down, maybe there’s a bit of a brother in all of us.
Yeti’s own description of its target market doesn’t actually include the word brother. The company started with hunters and anglers, professional and amateur, as its first fans. Selling expensive, high-performance equipment to athletes is a well-established (albeit niche) market, and according to Yeti’s account, it had an opening. “There was no cooler that would let you stay out and fish longer,” Paulie Dery, director of marketing for Yeti, told me. “And then the lids broke when you stepped on them trying to use them as casting platforms.”
The company seems to have genuinely solved both of these issues. With nothing in it, one of its mid-size Tundra coolers weighs a decidedly sturdy 23 pounds. I have seen them used as benches and stepladders by people of all sizes and levels of intoxication in the garden. And – with my apologies that saying a product did its most basic function as promised sounds like an advertisement – I also opened one in a friend’s apartment, several days after the party for which it was used, and I found ice cream that was only half melted and drinks still pretty ice cold. Earlier this summer, the financial news site motley fool worried that Yeti’s products could actually be too good to make his stock a good long-term investment, because his coolers and other equipment don’t need to be replaced regularly.
So far, at least, that hasn’t been a problem. Dery has repeatedly told me that the company’s products are always designed to be durable enough for fishing, hunting and agricultural work, and that the company’s advertising targets people who are serious about outdoors. Indeed, Yeti has become a fascination in the world of branding for its understated approach. The company focuses its event marketing and celebrity endorsement efforts on things like college fishing tournaments and national rock climbing championships, and it signs rodeo champions and barbecue pitmasters largely unknown outside of their disciplines. This approach doesn’t seem to immediately appeal to a large audience of people who spend their lives mostly indoors, but associations with ambitious skills and expertise have a way of lending appealing credibility to people who don’t know how to pitch. a fly rod or ride a horse or light a grill. Maybe they want to learn on their next vacation. You might as well start by buying the equipment.
And these other customers found the company and filled its coffers. First, they were in places like Denver and Nashville, cities and their suburbs near outdoor activities and with amateur sports populations. But now, Dery said, the brand has started to see significant sales growth in coastal urban areas, which don’t exactly fit that mold. This trend follows my own perception: In the 2010s, my friends in Georgia, where I grew up and attended a college that takes tailgating very seriously, started buying Yeti coolers to baptize backyards. course of the first newly purchased houses or to modernize their university. -Football setups for a new season. More recently, however, my friends in New York, where I now live, seem to know and care about the brand’s products. And although Yeti has so far avoided traditional celebrity spokespersons, stars such as julia robert and Matt Damon are apparent fans. I didn’t see this twist coming.
How a Texas brand grows from a small audience of dedicated anglers to a larger audience of largely middle- and upper-class white men in the South is no impossible puzzle. Many brands that sell high-end outdoor activities, such as Patagonia and Arc’teryx, have gone from avid American hikers, skiers and climbers to broader success among well-paid office workers and adjacent outdoor enthusiasts. to these groups. Slightly more interesting is how Yeti grew from hunters and fishers to Sun Belt millennial dads to New Yorkers hosting rooftop parties or hauling their coffee to work on the subway. The insulated beverage container market is already crowded, and consumer influence in the United States tends to flow in somewhat predictable directions. I haven’t noticed any Brooklynites working at digital marketing agencies sourcing Columbia fishing shirts or Titleist caps. They generally want different things from their clothes and belongings, with rare overlaps, like the workwear brand Carhartt, which – tale as old as time – needed the cool signature of influential rappers in the 1990s before fashion-conscious white New Yorkers finally took notice.
The key to the whole phenomenon might be in my friend’s text about all the brothers who showed up with their yetis, ready to keep their brothers’ beers ice cold all weekend. People love — and have been socialized — to mark milestones with objects. Buying something that costs a few hundred dollars and is meant to last a lifetime achieves good value for many young professionals who want a marker or two of domestic stability and success to display around their home – or, in the case of a fancy cooler, to bring along to entertain their friends at parties, or to make sure your brothers have cold drinks by the lake.
Unlike most other types of outdoor gear that can be reused in city life – parkas, cold weather boots, lightweight backpacks – coolers are common, their contents are often fun, and they don’t actually suggest whether you want to do anything that causes you to sweat or rub your inner thighs or maybe fall off the side of a mountain. The brothers, who seem to be the most ardent adopters of Yeti’s products, aren’t consigned to any particular region of the country, and they like to get out and sit or stand behind a grill. Word brother may have negative connotations, but I like it best as a largely gender-neutral descriptor of someone who is affable, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and is – crucially – a good shot. Everyone loves the person who shows up to the party with a cooler full of drinks that won’t come back to room temperature for days, and you don’t even have to catch fish or learn to ski.