Can a Water Called Liquid Death Beat the Energy Drinks at Their Own Game?

Applying the language of unhealthy brands to something good for you

Liquid Death
Headshot of Tim Nudd

It’s jarring to see a water brand called Liquid Death. But what if it’s actually just right for the times—appealing to young people in the brand language they tend to like, but promoting a healthier product, which they also increasingly value?

Mike Cessario, a West Coast agency creative, created Liquid Death last year as a side project. He and his partners first tried an Indie GoGo, but it didn’t take off. So instead, they decided to do a Facebook market test by posting a funny video—all about how water is really the most extreme and dangerous beverage on Earth—and some pictures of the product.

Check out the video here:

In less than two months, with only $600 in paid media, the video has 1.2 million views on Facebook. Cessario says Liquid Death is “crushing” major brands like Monster, Red Bull and every bottled water in average shares per post, average likes per post, and engagement percent.

The brand has begun pre-orders at DrinkLiquidDeath.com (which redirects to a Celery page). It also just signed up Mr. Pickles co-creator Will Carsola as a brand partner and creative consultant. He will help lead the artistic side of the brand, from clothing designs to “twisted animated video content,” Cessario says.

We talked to Cessario more about how Liquid Death came to life, the inspiration for its package design, and why young consumers appear to be so drawn to the brand.

AdFreak: What’s the backstory of this brand?
Mike Cessario: Working in advertising, I’ve seen for years that the most fun, irreverent brands and campaigns that really target youth culture are all for unhealthy products like soda, energy drinks, beer and candy. [I was] just thinking through exciting ways to rebrand water as a substance that was totally opposite of the current yoga accessory stigma, while also having a truthful insight that isn’t complete bullshit. And since we are competing with the most explosive rebellious brands on the market, our healthy water brand had to be even more punk and fuck-you than energy drinks.

What were you going for with the design/packaging?
Energy drinks are designed for kids. Bright colors, bold shapes, big type. But kids don’t want to be marketed to as kids. So we borrowed the design from the adult world of craft beer. Beer can’t own a design style. And everything from soda to coconut water comes in cans. The idea was that when you see our can next to energy drinks, it’s makes them seem kiddie. We didn’t want people to see this and just think it’s another energy drink at first glance.

The spot is very good. Who is the actress? And why do you feel like the video is fresh and different and not another Old Spice?
The actress is Elizabeth Grullon. She’s a talented accomplished actor, and a good friend who loved the idea enough to star in it for us. Old Spice is still designed to be a TV spot for a giant corporation. They still have to play by a lot of traditional rules. We designed our spot for the internet, where there are very few rules.

Is it tricky to make fun of energy drinks but then call your product Liquid Death and recruit the same audience?
The youth of today care more about health than ever. Even the fuck-you punk rockers and skateboarders. They are even drinking less alcohol and getting less fucked up. But they still like explosions and extreme sports and heavy music and blowing zombie heads off in video games. But only unhealthy brands, whose products they don’t love, are speaking their language from a brand perspective. No healthy brands are actually trying to fit into real youth culture. It’s likely why we keep getting hundreds of messages from our target audience telling us how much they love the brand. Plus, it makes it easier when the people behind the brand are also the target audience.

What do you need to do next to bring this product to life?
We need to keep growing our audience, grow our brand ambassador team—bands, tattoo artists, etc.—start growing some online sales revenue, and eventually use our momentum to raise real capital and take it to the next level. Which is actually getting into multiple distributors … music venues, bars and 7-Elevens.


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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
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