Have you heard about the graphic designer from Delaware who built a $700 million dollar brand that sells…canned water? Mike Cessario must be the most canny (sorry) entrepreneur of the 21st century. After seeing punk rock concert-goers drink water out of Monster energy drink cans, he realised that cool kids want to stay hydrated too. They just don’t want to be seen dead drinking out of the bottles that are popular on California yoga retreats.
Cessario launched Liquid Death not so long ago, in 2019. The company’s main product is mountain water that ‘murders your thirst’, sold in 500ml ‘tallboy’ cans that are easily (and proudly) confused with beer. It’s a brand that was built to win over Gen-Z by capturing the spirit of death metal and punk rock. There are all the visuals you’d expect – gothic fonts, tattoo-like artwork, skulls, blood splatters – but also a rebellious tone of voice that’s so multi-dimensional it’s almost a personality.
Before the product had even launched, Liquid Death’s first marketing video went viral on Facebook thanks to its use of waterboarding as the punchline. A truly bold way to establish your audience. The fact is, while the product itself is not that cool, the brand is so anti-mainstream that its cool credentials are bulletproof. This is also how they’ve approached celebrity partnerships. Liquid Death has teamed up with even the most homely of household names (oh hey Martha Stewart!) and paired them with the sort of products that would shock Uncle Fester. Turns out there’s a lot of people out there who’d pay good money for a Martha Stewart x Liquid Death severed hand luxury candle.
This is tapping into something Gen-Z (and, to be fair, Millennials before them) value very highly: funny video content. These celebrities aren’t known for their love of death metal, or of mountain water, or even for their sense of humour. The shock of these high profile names being, well, fun, makes their videos impossible not to share. Liquid Death scooped up basketball player Jalen Green’s audience with an ad for branded basketballs that look like severed heads. Rapper Wiz Khalifa’s claim that Liquid Death is the ‘finest bong water on earth’ has surely lodged in the minds of a good few music fans, no matter how much they smoke. It’s proof that branding doesn’t stop at visuals. Be confident in what you want your marketing to deliver and you can sell anything from gory candles to plain old water.
An underlying stroke of genius to this marketing exercise is that it’s not even expensive. Many of the celebrities featured in the campaigns are actually Liquid Death investors, a fact that at once lends extra legitimacy to the ads and reduces marketing spend on appearance fees. Now it’s not a tactic to write into a business plan, of course – we can’t all entice high profile cash – but it goes to show that the right product can really win people’s attention. Pro skater Tony Hawk, for instance, provided his actual DNA to the cause, as well as a load of cash. A vial of his blood was mixed with the red paint used to decorate 100 Liquid Death skateboards, each of which was sold with a letter of authenticity.
What if your 'joke-first' brand actually has a serious message to share? There’s a celeb for that, too. Liquid Death makes a big deal of the fact that aluminium cans are easily recyclable, whereas plastic water bottles are not. To deliver the news of their environmental concern they enlisted porn star Cherie DeVille who nails the tongue-in-cheek punchline: “Don’t f**k the planet.”
There’s no other brand delivering partnerships like these. They’re always outrageous, sometimes offensive, often nothing to do with the actual product. And that’s almost the internet version of a free gift. With that unwavering sense of its very silly self, Liquid Death has become more culturally relevant than any water brand deserves to be. That confidence could keep them on For You pages indefinitely. Long live Liquid Death.