Liquid Death: Making a “Dumb Idea” Profitable with Great Branding
If you sold canned water, how would you market it? How would you draw attention from consumers and convince them to choose your canned water over conventional bottled water or even tap or filtered water? It may seem inconceivable, but Liquid Death has figured out the key — one-of-a-kind branding.
Few companies show the magic of branding like Liquid Death. What is Liquid Death, and what makes its branding strategy so unique? MarcomCentral provides an in-depth case study of how this unconventional brand turned water into riches.
How Liquid Death Was Born
Who created Liquid Death? Based in Los Angeles, the water company was founded by Mike Cessario, a former creative director at Netflix. While at the Warped Tour music festival in 2008, Cessario noticed many energy drink brands sponsored rock bands and tours. He had a chance to speak with some band members and discovered that many of them drank water while performing but were obligated to drink it out of a can per their sponsorship requirements.
Mike Cessario, CEO and co-founder of Liquid Death. Photography by G L Askew II
Between this experience and Cessario’s background playing in punk and heavy metal bands, the Liquid Death brand was born in 2018. Cessario’s idea was selling canned, mountain water that appealed to a highly specific target audience — young, edgy consumers.
As for who owns Liquid Death, Cessario is the co-founder alongside several names in the tech industry, such as Michael Dubin, founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club, and Biz Stone,
co-founder of Twitter. With backing from these and other investors, Cessario launched Liquid Death in 2019.
The water brand has continued to expand since its launch. Liquid Death products are sold in 60,000 stores across the United States, including Target, Whole Foods, and 7-Eleven. On Amazon, Liquid Death has topped the charts as the top-selling still water and second top-selling sparkling water.
Liquid Death has also seen considerable growth in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue. Its revenue rose from $45 million in 2021 to $130 million in 2022, and projections suggest the company will double its revenue by the end of 2023.
A Brand That Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously
The silliness of the Liquid Death brand isn’t lost on Cessario. After all, it’s just water in a tallboy can. Yet it’s this silliness that the company leans into in creating the unique Liquid Death branding strategy.
Marketing canned water traditionally wouldn’t work, as titans in the beverage industry, like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, already dominate these spheres. Instead, Cessario wanted Liquid Death to be an edgy and humorous brand.
Cessario and the team took a marketing approach that sounds unusual to the typical marketer — go with the dumbest idea. The rationale is that the smart ideas are the successful ones another brand is already doing.
“You kind of have to trick your brain to come up with a bad idea to truly be thinking in innovative territory,”
said Cessario in an article for CNBC.
In this case, Liquid Death can be seen as a strange name for a drink that’s supposed to be healthier than the energy drink alternative.
As such, part of Liquid Death’s advertising efforts have centered around entertaining its customers. They post mock advertisements on TikTok and mockumentary-style videos on YouTube, two platforms where its millennial and Gen Z audience congregates. In 2020, Liquid Death released an album on Spotify consisting of negative reviews and comments, aptly called the “Greatest Hates”. One of the wildest marketing campaigns involved a partnership with Tony Hawk to sell several limited-edition skateboards containing Hawk’s blood.
The Higher Purpose Behind Liquid Death
Although Liquid Death’s marketing strategy is playful, it’s not all fun and games for Cessario and his team. Liquid Death is also about creating a healthier population and planet. While working
on a public service ad campaign in 2014, Cessario realized the health risks of sugary energy drinks, as well as the branding tactics often employed to market them.
“It started making me think about: Why aren’t there more healthy products that still have funny, cool, irreverent branding? Because most of the funniest, most memorable, irreverent branding marketing is all for junk food,” he explains in the article for CNBC.
Another major concern of Liquid Death is plastic pollution. According to The Aluminum Association, aluminum cans contain about 73% recycled content, which is 20 times the recycled material of plastic bottles. By offering canned versus bottled water, Liquid Death is saying #DeathToPlastic. Additionally, Liquid Death partners with non-profit environmental organizations to assist with beach clean-ups and climate change efforts.
Source: The Liquid Death Website
What Makes Liquid Death So Successful?
The success of Liquid Death can be boiled down to two elements — its marketing strategy and sustainability model.
Their Marketing Strategy
Appealing to Their Target Audience
When devising marketing campaigns, Cessario sees Liquid Death as part of the entertainment business. The irreverent branding appeals to millennials and Gen Z consumers who appreciate the authentic, funny, and occasionally dark content and are generally opposed to traditional advertising.
Liquid Death’s standout branding makes consumers feel more like they’re headed to a heavy metal or punk rock concert than buying canned water. Skull imagery adorns the packaging of their mountain water, sparkling water, and iced teas, and hard-core fans can purchase apparel, accessories, and other merch to show their love for Liquid Death. A memorable tagline — Murder Your Thirst — further helps differentiate the brand and generate interest.
“Hey Kids, Murder Your Thirst” Ad
Liquid Death Merch
Source: The Liquid Death Website
The brand makes full use of social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok to ensure the target audience sees its unusual and entertaining marketing content. Here are some of the ways Liquid Death leverages social media:
- Instagram: Mock advertisements, polls and quizzes in stories, and user-generated content
- TikTok: Mock advertisements, collaborations, and challenges with TikTok influencers
- YouTube: Mockumentaries, behind-the-scenes videos, engaging with criticism in creative ways
They even take their efforts offline…
Launch of Liquid Death in Walmart Texas
Their Sustainability Model
As mentioned, eliminating plastic pollution is an overarching goal of Liquid Death. Consistent with its other branding, the company educated consumers on its commitment to sustainability with the “Sell Your Soul” initiative.
Customers are encouraged to “sell their souls” (joining the Liquid Death Country Club). Members gain access to numerous exclusives, including Members-Only merchandise, invites to private shows and events, and access to the Country Club experience at select Live Nation festivals. For every soul Liquid Death “sells”, they pledge a donation of $1.80 to plastic cleanup efforts.
Liquid Death’s Impact on the Industry
The biggest bottled water brands, such as Dasani and Aquafina, are owned by large brands like The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo. Although these brands could launch similar brands to Liquid Death, Cessario isn’t worried about this possibility.
One reason for Cessario’s lack of concern is that Liquid Death is the perfect example of the disruptor brand. Packaged water is hardly a new product, but the company reaches a new target market with unique marketing, enabling it to sell canned water at a premium price. The brand is so distinct that it maintains a leg up on the major players for the connection it generates with consumers.
“It’s really hard to replicate the marketing. Really hard. People think it’s easy, and you’ll see people come out trying to do it and fall completely flat on their face,” Cessario tells CNBC.
Where Is Liquid Death Headed?
With revenue projections at $260 million by the end of 2023 — double its revenue for 2022 — Liquid Death seems headed toward more success looking forward. What’s more, the brand hired Goldman Sachs to secure an initial public offering by spring 2024.
One of Liquid Death’s most recent successes is passing Amazon’s metric for selling wholesale. Now, the company sells directly to Amazon, instead of consumers through Amazon, meaning it sells products to customers at a reduced price. In other words, sales have skyrocketed.
Liquid Death recently achieved a significant milestone by meeting Amazon’s requirement to be able to sell their products wholesale. This means they are no longer subject to charges for each case of water sold through Amazon. Instead, the company sells water directly to the e-commerce giant, which, in turn, offers the water directly to its customers at a discounted rate.
Another reason for Liquid Death’s success is its continual interest in expansion. Cessario believes the company has much room to grow and to this end has started offering iced teas and flavored sparkling waters. These new products feature creative names that align with the branding, like Berry It Alive, Rest in Peach, and Convicted Melon.
With branding as outlandish as Liquid Death’s, criticism is inevitable. Some find the attempt to make water edgy and cool a little too gimmicky, turning them off from the brand. The primary concern among investment professionals is that Liquid Death is selling relatively average products in a highly competitive market. Will its branding be enough to deliver financially, or will consumers lose interest in a few years?
Still, others feel Liquid Death’s branding alone is enough to produce venture returns, as consumers direct their attention to brands that catch their interest, not necessarily if they offer the products they want. Liquid Death is a poster child of the type of branding companies must consider to appeal to changing perspectives among consumers. Customers are increasingly interested in the brand’s story, its values, and the lifestyle it espouses.
Develop One-of-a-Kind Branding With MarcomCentral
Liquid Death is proof that unique branding can be the difference between a business with great profitability and staying power and one that phases out quickly. If you want to become a disruptor brand like Liquid Death, a great place to begin is ensuring consistency with branding across multiple channels. In MarcomCentral, companies find an omnichannel solution for all their branding needs, including brand management, digital asset management, collateral distribution, and compliance. In addition to food and beverage, many other industries rely on MarcomCentral to help deliver consistent and engaging brand experiences.
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