I have a very important, not at all trivial, if-there-are-better-things-to-worry-about-I-can’t‑think-of-any question that I need answered: why did everyone I know, seemingly overnight, buy a Solo Stove? Take a walk around the neighborhood — boom, Solo Stove. Outdoor meetup with old friends — boom, Solo Stove. “I have a great idea for your parents for Christmas” — boom, Solo Stove. And hidden for me this year beside the tree in a repurposed bike-bag? Solo Stove! Our little town, our region, our nation is suddenly flush with the stainless steel, “smokeless” (we’ll get to this), wood-burning signifier of the bougie ideal. And I need to know why, because it might just be the greatest branding success of our time.
What is a Solo Stove?
A Solo Stove, for the uninitiated, is a very expensive fire pit. Here are the words they use to describe the Solo Stove: “smokeless,” “Signature 360° Airflow Design,” “mesmerizing,” “double-walled.” It’s cool-looking in a harshly-modern-utilitarian sort of way. It’s shiny, it burns wood really fast, it has holes on the bottom (to achieve that signature flow), and it’s compact in a way that traditional fire pits aren’t.
Performance-wise, it’s pretty much like any fire pit you’ve ever used in your life. It keeps your warm (but you still need a blanket for your body), you can roast marshmallows on it, and you have to find a place to dump the ashes when you’re done. This isn’t a criticism — this thing does exactly what you expect it to do, and it does it well.
How to Manufacture Branding Success in 3 Steps
It occurs to me that the Solo Stove is really no different than any other hit product in the age of Instagram. Here’s the script:
Pick a Really Good Angle
What’s the worst thing about fire pits? The smoke, of course. Picture it with me: you’ve got the ‘mallow on the stick, you’ve got the chocolate and graham at the ready, you step to the fire to drop the stick into the pit and WHAM! a gust from the gods changes the wind’s direction and instead of a creamy, charred-to-perfection s’more you’ve got a lungful of oak smoke. But not with the Solo. The Solo is “smokeless.” Anyone who’s ever used a fire pit can feel the dream emanating from that one word. Of all the angles they could have picked, they picked the best one.
(Quick aside: the Solo Stove, alas, is not smokeless. It gets there — once you have a hot, mostly-ember fire going, there’s isn’t a ton of smoke. But let’s be honest — that’s true of most fire pits. I’m of the opinion that most of the Airflow is coming directly out of some marketer’s very talented mouth).
Make it Shareable
Check out this photo from their Instagram. It’s got everything! The kids in snow gear. The attentive, good-looking dad showing them how to properly make a fire (can’t you just hear him saying “Boys, this is fatwood. Fatwood is very important to starting a proper fire?”). The dog. It’s the ideal of America baked into a delicious, consumable, digital treat. And you better believe I’m going to try to recreate this moment in my own feed.
Make it More Expensive Than You Think It Should Be
This is the savviest, most-delicate of strategies. Too much and you risk your customers looking like wasteful knuckleheads if they buy it. Too little and all of a sudden the stainless steel looks cheap instead of high-end. Solo Stove hit the perfect balance. It’s not kinda expensive because it makes a better fire. It’s kinda expensive because it looks cool, it looks different than your traditional iron pit from Home Depot, and it makes a bold, not-easily-disprovable claim that you can convince yourself is true because you dropped $250 on a metal circle. It goes without saying, the suburbs were rabidly trying to get their hands on this thing. They look great next to Teslas.
Bonus Tip: Be Lucky
Listen, nothing good came from the pandemic. It was awful in every sense of the word. But the timing of the pandemic and the Solo Stove’s meteoric rise into EP Henry-paved back yards everywhere isn’t a coincidence. Sometimes the stars align and your product is a perfect fit for the market. Solo Stove, meet stars.
Own Your Manipulations
All of these cynical, grizzled, behind-the-boardroom-door takes above really can’t escape from the fact that the Solo Stove is a pretty darn good fire pit. We’ve had a ton of fun with it. My dad thoroughly enjoyed watching me try to get a fire started in it (“Boy I’m glad we have this new stove! Sure is warm!”). Was this product conceived, made, priced, and marketed for people just like me? Yep. But you know what — I don’t care. There are worse things than having a fire pit that you like and use regardless of how it ends up in your possession. When you understand how marketing works and manipulates you to buy stuff, you achieve a sort of commercial enlightenment. It’s quite freeing, and it sure is warm.