Celebrating 10 years : 2013 - 2023

How did Liquid Death do it?

May 1st 2024

By Emily

What if water could be as cool as your favourite craft beer or energy drink? That’s the question Mike Cessario, a Delaware graphic designer, pondered over a decade ago while attending the Vans Warped Tour.

Observing concert-goers drinking water from Monster Energy cans to stay hydrated while looking the part, Cessario was struck by an interesting thought: why had no one marketed water with the same aggressive, edgy vibe as energy drinks? This question led to the birth of Liquid Death, a brand that would turn the bottled water industry on its head.

Where it all began

Launched in 2019, after being trademarked in 2017, it started as something of an inside joke—an ironic take on how traditionally mundane product marketing could be turned into something memorably outrageous.

The approach was unorthodox, poking fun at traditional marketing while offering a product essential for health—water. Unlike the typical bottled water that markets itself with serene images of mountains and springs, Liquid Death brought a new aesthetic to the table.

It tapped into the visual and thematic style of the underground music scene—a nod to Cessario’s own background—with branding that mimicked the look of a heavy metal beverage.

From viral social media campaigns to a standout Super Bowl commercial, Liquid Death quickly expanded its presence, defying initial expectations with its broad appeal. In just a few years, sales skyrocketed from $2.8 million in 2019 to $130 million in 2022, to $1.4 billion in 2024.

Mike Cessario’s approach was clear: merge the worlds of entertainment and hydration to create not just a product, but a bit of a phenomenon. “At the end of the day, we’re really creating an entertainment company and a water company,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

By making consumers laugh and delivering a high-quality product, Liquid Death has cultivated a loyal following who aren’t just customers, but fans.

Reinventing the wheel

The first thing that sets Liquid Death apart is its branding, especially with a slogan like Murder Your Thirst. This edgy tone is a stark contrast to the clean, serene imagery typically associated with bottled water.

By aligning with a subculture that prides itself on going against the mainstream, Liquid Death turns a routine act—grabbing a bottle of water—into a statement of identity.

Sustainability with a (lime) twist

Despite the egdy branding, Liquid Death holds a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, which resonates with a broad audience. Its cans are 100% recyclable, tapping into the growing consumer demand for sustainable products.

But Liquid Death markets this feature not through the gentle, green-focused lens often used by eco-friendly brands, but by emphasising the product’s ‘infinitely recyclable’ nature as part of its hardcore ethos.

This approach not only stands out in the crowded space of sustainable products but also appeals to consumers tired of traditional, preachy environmental messaging.

Creating a cultural movement

Liquid Death has successfully turned its product into a lifestyle. By marketing itself through merchandise, collaborations with musicians and artists, and involvement in music festivals and events, it fosters a sense of community among its consumers.

This strategy transforms customers into brand advocates who feel part of a broader tribe, connected through a shared aesthetic and value system. The lesson here is powerful: when a product is embedded within a culture, its appeal can transcend its basic utility.

Engagement through content

Content is king, and Liquid Death reigns by creating engaging, original content that entertains while it advertises. Their approach includes everything from outrageous animated videos to mockumentaries and viral social media posts.

This content does more than just sell a product; it entertains, engrosses, and creates buzz, keeping the brand at the forefront of conversations—not just about water, but about culture and entertainment.

They’ve also dipped their toes into brand partnerships. Most notably, their recent unlikely collaboration with e.l.f. cosmetics.

What’s considered typical or expected in your industry? Do the opposite and you get absolute gems like this:

Big fan. No notes.

Lessons for brands

What can other brands learn from Liquid Death’s meteoric rise?

  1. Align with your broader values: Consumers buy into lifestyles and identities, not just products. Aligning your brand with values that resonate with your target audience can deepen loyalty and widen appeal.
  2. Stand out with bold branding: Embrace bold, unconventional branding to make your product a beacon in a sea of sameness. Liquid Death turned the mundane act of drinking water into a cultural statement, proving that even the simplest products can capture the imagination.
  3. Be creative with your content: Humour and entertainment can be powerful tools for engagement. In a digital age where attention is the hardest currency to earn, making your audience smile is a winning strategy. Use content to build and engage a community, not just to advertise. Creative, engaging content can turn your brand into a topic of conversation, extending its reach far beyond its immediate customer base.
  4. Be consistent: Never underestimate the power of strong, consistent branding. Liquid Death’s commitment to its image and voice across all platforms has helped it maintain a cohesive identity that resonates with consumers. For brands looking to shake up staid industries, Liquid Death serves as a reminder that sometimes, thinking outside the box (or can) can yield refreshing results.

Liquid Death’s rise from an ironic concept to a formidable force in the beverage industry highlights key lessons for all brands striving to make an impact:

Authenticity wins—know what you stand for and shout it from the rooftops in the most creatively engaging way possible.

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