How to Defy Industry Image, Crush Competition

By George Farris, CEO, Farris Marketing
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Imagine you’re picking up your “perfect angel” 7-year-old daughter from a birthday party for  one of her school friends. You walk in and see a drowsy kid on a couch. Another is stuffing his face with cake  while one appears to be puking. Not that unusual for a kid’s party.

But most of the kids, including your angel, are laughing hysterically and dancing wildly to “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, blasting from stereo speakers.

You’re still not alarmed until you notice most of the kids are drinking – make that guzzling – from tall boy cans as they dance. You see a discarded empty on the floor. The brand is clearly labeled and reads “Liquid Death.”

Liquid Death? Are the kids drinking beer or some high-caffeine energy drink? You’re horrified. That’s when you notice the mother of the birthday boy waving to you. She’s nine months pregnant and – OMG – she’s drinking a can of Liquid Death!

Host Mom sees your alarm and mouths, “Don’t be scared. It’s just water.”

That’s right. Water.

The scenario I described was actually a 30-second commercial for Liquid Death, a new drinking water sold in a 16.9 fluid-ounce cans instead of plastic bottles. Its tagline is “Murder Your Thirst.”

Liquid Death was founded by Mike Cessario, a former skateboarder who played in a heavy metal band. After graduating from college, Cessario worked at several top ad agencies.

Cessario noticed how the creative within certain categories seemed to stay in the same channel. One category with that issue was potable water.

Cessario wondered why most drinking water advertising was focused on health. Advertising for beer, candy, snacks, and other consumables often had funny or light themes. “Why can’t ads for drinking water be fun?” he asked himself.

Cessario wanted to test his theory when he started his water company in 2019. He was entering a crowded and competitive market.

His brand would go against brands that had millions of advertising and sponsorship dollars. He knew his brand had to be outrageous –not just different – to break through, create awareness and demand.

Cessario chose the brand name “Liquid Death” and began packaging and presenting it as if it were beer. 

“The Liquid Death brand name is sort of a double edge sword,” says the founder. “People who never heard of us, but are looking to buy drinking water, may walk by Liquid Death because they think it’s beer.”

The flip side is all positive.

According to Forbes, Liquid Death registers strongly with young people and kids. It’s very high on the “cool scale.” 

That coolness translated into over $45 million in sales in 2021.

Liquid Death is stocked in chains like Trader Joes, Whole Foods and others, right next to its tamer-image competitors.

You might want to check out some very creative ads and promotions on the Liquid Death YouTube channel. The original video is hard to forget since it features a water boarding.

We wanted to check it out ourselves. So we bought a dozen cans for a taste test at the office.

I can report that Liquid Death tastes like – um – bottled water. It quenches your thirst like bottled water.

But unlike bottled water, when you drink Liquid Death, you look cool. Very cool.