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Food & Drink Brand Strategy Liquid Death

Wondering what’s wrong with the ad industry eventually led me to Liquid Death


By Andy Pearson, VP creative

March 20, 2024 | 9 min read

Liquid Death’s Andy Pearson shares how his journey took him from a miserable creative job to deliberately doing things ‘wrong’ for one of the most entertaining brands around.

Liquid Death's Andy Pearson

Liquid Death's Andy Pearson / Mike Angel

Do you ever question everything you’re doing and get filled with a deep existential dread and regret? I sure have! How many late nights have you spent at the office putting together the deck for the cracker brand social media account pitch? Or urgently responding to the 11pm email from the cell carrier client about a last-minute emergency change to the VO to say ‘nearly 95%’ instead of ‘up to 95%’?

Most of us got into advertising and marketing because we genuinely loved using creativity to solve problems. But along the way, maybe we’ve created some even deeper ones, killing ourselves week in and week out to sell a few more bags of potato chips and make some award-show videos that no one wants to watch. (Spend three minutes on Fishbowl, and you’ll be accosted by the disillusionment, cynicism, and straight-up despair that runs rampant in our industry.)

At some point in our careers, we all inevitably stop for a brief moment, look around, and wonder what the actual fuck we’re doing. That’s what led me to Liquid Death. The brand was born out of a deep dissatisfaction with the marketing world, as seen from the inside. The entire premise of what we’re doing is, what if we took all the energy spent to market things that are bad for us and put it behind something that’s not actively killing us and the planet?

It’s a simple question but one that has profound–and possibly troublesome–implications if you start thinking about it too hard. What if we all spent our limited time on Earth choosing to actually try to do something good that we enjoyed? (Crazy, right?) It is absolutely wild to me when I see people moan that “Liquid Death took a commodity like water and turned it into a business.”

Do they never drink plastic bottled water? Maybe they haven’t seen the massive coolers of repackaged municipal tap water in gas stations or grocery stores. Perhaps they’ve never been handed bottled water on an airplane or at an event. Certainly, they don’t take notice of the 20,000 single-use plastic bottles produced every single second to carry all this water and other beverages around.

I like to think they are noticing now because we bothered to change the form factor. After decades of marketing water based on purity and selling it in clear, single-use plastic bottles so you could see it, we dared to put it in an infinitely recyclable aluminum can. Or maybe it is because we simply put energy behind building a fun brand for healthy beverages. Why let beer, energy drinks and soda continue to have all the fun?

Whatever the reason, and yes, there can be multiple, I love seeing it because it means that, for the first time, someone is taking notice of the world around them. We are so much more than the “consumers” that our marketing decks refer to us as. We have agency. We can make choices about which businesses we do or don’t support. And collectively, those choices have a real impact on the world around us. When we choose companies that prioritize making the world better, it puts upward pressure on every other company to do better.

And yes, even marketers are human, too. We have a choice, too. None of us have a gun to our heads demanding we make award-winning ads for an energy drink or telecom conglomerate – even if it feels like it sometimes.

I spent a year as creative director on the Pizza Hut account. I always refer to it as the Worst Year of My Life. I was absolutely miserable, killing myself doing bad work for a bad client to sell bad pizza. I’d work, and only sometimes sleep, in weird corporate hotels in weird corporate parks in weird corporate Plano, Texas, writing $6 promo deal scripts that made my eyes bleed and put me off my dinner. Then came the moment I finally lifted my head up and finally said those magic words, “What the actual fuck am I doing?”

Not so long after that, my wife and I decided to pack up our lives and travel the world for a year while we still could. We started freelancing for small agencies and brands in the US while we were half a world away in Cambodia or Vietnam. One of the agencies we hooked up with was Humanaut out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The team was doing hilarious and interesting work almost entirely for organic and healthy brands.

With them, things started clicking into place for us. Co-founder and chief creative director David Littlejohn was a guy I’d briefly met at CP+B. It turns out we shared a small war room for 72 hours straight, with only about three hours of sleep, over a weekend putting together an entire project from scratch for a client.

David had a philosophy that I had felt deep down but couldn’t articulate. He told us, “Look, we have a finite amount of time on Earth; we should spend it doing things that make us happy and for companies that aren’t fucking up the planet.” That was his guiding principle for the shop. My wife and I eventually joined part-time as creative directors in residence. I had never before seen an agency choosing to put its talent only behind things it believed in. And not just that, there was real energy and humor, too.

It got approached by a big brand with an offer of an agency-making account, but it was a very unhealthy product. They were promptly told to fuck off. The entire agency sat around a table and literally voted by a show of hands on whether to take on a client that felt a little questionable. And everyone voted against it. We didn’t take it.

So, it’s no coincidence that Liquid Death’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Cessario, was a creative at Humanaut before we got there. This DNA of giving a fuck is ingrained in the Liquid Death brand. When Mike invited me to join Liquid Death almost three years ago, it felt like the culmination of all these things I had been feeling: that we should spend energy on only what matters, that passion makes the best work, that the ad agency world is a timesuck made to swirl and make busy work for ourselves, that we’re all overthinking everything.

Liquid Death is simply us stepping back to ask a question: ‘What if we just didn’t do it the way we’re supposed to do?’

We are an industry of almost limitless talent and ambition. Can you imagine if we all directed that at businesses that were actually good for the world or the people in it? Can you imagine if we all actually gave a real shit about the brands we worked on?

People seem surprised by Liquid Death’s success. Of course, we’re successful. We simply made a choice. We set out to build a brand that made health and sustainability 50 times more fun. And we knew it was possible because no one had ever bothered to do it before.

Everything is stupid until it isn’t. Choose stupid more often.

So the next time someone hands you a crinkly plastic bottle or a brief that feels weird, remember you have a choice. You just have to realize it first.

Food & Drink Brand Strategy Liquid Death

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