Liquid Death is a canned water brand that made the news for its hardcore branding. But is there more behind the loud marketing? This articles delves into Liquid Death’s nonconformist positioning, the reasons behind its recent success and the insights to be learnt from it. All water-related puns are absolutely intended.

Credits – Liquid Death

Picture this.

An Austrian yodeling man brutally decapitated in the Alps.
A heavy metal band exterminated on stage by a racing car.
A hunky TV host getting his head whirled in a kitchen mixer.

Nightmare? Gore movie? Apocalypse? Nope, it’s an advert. From a water brand.

If you are confused, welcome to the club. The first time I saw Liquid Death‘s first advert I was VERY shocked. But as soon as I learnt more about this young Californian brand selling alpine water in tallboy cans I realised that it was exactly how I was supposed to feel. The more I scrolled through Liquid Death’s website and social media pages, the more I got converted to its irreverent, heavy metal, water-powered cult. I fell in love with its incredibly unconventional branding.

A refreshing approach to… water

Liquid Death was launched in 2018 by former Netflix creative director Mike Cessario as a direct-to-consumer canned water brand. The current product range includes two options of 100% mountain water, still and sparkling, both coming in 500ml tallboy aluminium cans – pretty much like your favourite beer. The brand made the news in May 2019 for raising a $1.6 million venture round from investors like Dollar Shave Club’s CEO Michael Dubin and Twitter cofounder Biz Stone thanks to its unique personality in the stagnant water industry. In early 2020 Liquid Death received a further $9 million in Series A funding, proof that the concept is a winning one.

Liquid Death’s first unique selling point is all about sustainability as aluminium cans are infinitely more recyclable than plastic bottles. Yes I can hear you saying “still not as good as refillable bottles!” but as Mike Cessario explained to TechCrunch, the aim of the brand is to be used when reusable bottles are not practical or available. Think about concert venues, house parties, bars – places where sustainability has yet to make a wide appearance. Liquid Death also pledges to donate 5 cents from every can to found #DeathToPlastic initiatives, so it feels like a pretty genuine commitment. 

The other killer attribute of Liquid Death is, well, its branding. You get it from the “Murder Your Thirst” tagline that this is not your standard H2O label. Liquid Death gives zero damns to the traditional branding pillars of its category and has stolen the heart of a segment of water drinkers that had never been spoken to. No magic. It’s simple, bold, clever marketing.

Credits – Liquid Death

Summon the brand positioning

Quoting the wise Philip Kotler

Positioning is the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.

In other words, it is everything that makes a brand different from its competition and therefore drives consumer acquisition, loyalty, brand equity and cold hard cash in the long run. 

Liquid Death crafted an unprecedented positioning in a water market flooded by zillions of copycats. The rest of the industry seem to build their brands on the old, familiar values of purity, cleanliness and inner peace, promoting traditional zen-like fitness lifestyles. Liquid Death took those very values and flushed them down the toilet. Its interpretation of water is a demonic, thrilling experience. Ice-cold mountain nectar pouring straight out of a beer can, hard rock music playing in the background and an esoteric cult recruiting metal heads, bikers, artists, strongmen and vikings, spacing across both genders. Even water can be cool.

This soul pervades all of Liquid Death’s touchpoints and its visual identity to create a consistent, recognisable brand image. A few examples:

  • Product
    The use of beer-inspired tallboy cans with a big, angry skull printed on them is not a random choice. Cracking one open is part of the brand experience. It also allows water to be a more comfortable and acceptable choice in contexts where it often has stigma attached to it, such as bars or parties. Just like an energy drink or a lager. 
  • Website
    From decapitated cartoon heads popping up shouting “Axe 10% off your next purchase” to consumer endorsements defined as “Real reviews from real psychopaths”, the brand’s ironic and controversial personality masterfully shapes the user journey of their primary selling channel. Seriously, their website is like a hilarious trip to the Underworld so check it out yourself on liquiddeath.com.
  • Social Media
    User-generated content and hashtags like #MurderYourThirst and #DeathToPlastic fuel the fervent community behind Liquid Death. Apparently there are about 20 fans who have already tattooed the brand’s logo on their own skin. For real. Once again irony and heavy metal vibes influence tone of voice and look & feel, and the formula seems to be working.
  • Advertising
    This is where the brand essence is unearthed in all its blasphemy. The first video ads launched in 2019 were mainly product-focused and based on the “Murder Your Thirst” theme, like the aforementioned extra-splatter cartoon or this explanation of why water is the deadliest stuff on Earth. Interestingly the most recent adverts are heavily introducing the sustainability component while remaining true to the brand’s dark humour, such as this testimonial from the Underworld. There’s no need for multi-million production budgets when you can rely on shareable content and a good dose of sarcasm.
Credits – Liquid Death

It’s just water in a can with a hell lot of marketing. That’s likely one of the first reactions people have when hearing about Liquid Death. Certainly the main argument of the brand’s fiercest detractors. Firstly, the benefit of such an atypical positioning is that even haters can become a source of brand building. Liquid Death has recently launched an exclusive Spotify playlist and vinyl called GREATEST HATES, a compilation of online hate comments converted into metal songs. Genius. Secondly, it is crucial to note that in a hypermature category like bottled water branding is the X-factor that can truly tip the scale. So it is not a sin to aim for this kind of differentiation if it means serving a niche of consumers in a better way. If you also add the sustainability element to the mix, it becomes clear why Liquid Death is managing to carve its space in the market.

Credits – Liquid Death

So what’s the takeaway?

Whatever you think of Liquid Death and its future – a Silicon Valley fad destined to fail or a genuinely revolutionary approach to bottled water – you’ve got to admit it takes some guts to do what this brand is doing. It’s incredibly hard to stand out in categories which exhibit herd-like behaviours, where all players seem to follow the same rules and there are so many undifferentiated choices. But thanks to its unorthodox positioning Liquid Death is masterfully bringing a fresh perspective in the industry and attracting new and existing audiences along the way.

If there is a tangible lesson to be learnt from Liquid Death’s young journey is that being radically different is often more beneficial than being incrementally different. Brands that can shake the foundations of their categories end up stirring both the competition and consumers out of their patterns and unlocking untapped streams of revenues. And if branding and positioning are the key tools to achieve that, it’s time for marketers to crack open a few cold ones. Water cans, of course.

Credits – Liquid Death

@albpis

Brand Manager by day, I edit AdCoffee by night. And I don't even drink coffee.
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