Drinks Retail Marketing

Liquid Death. Proof that creativity is the water of life for any brand


By Richard Denney, Joint chief creative officer

May 20, 2024 | 7 min read

St Luke’s Rich Denney is pleased to see a brand with an idea at its core capture imaginations and hopes it will serve as inspiration for more creative disruption.

liquid death x elf campaign

Cult canned water brand Liquid Death just landed in Aussie retailers last month to tap into millennials and Gen Z’s seemingly never-ending thirst for irreverently marketed drinks. The latest move towards world domination comes just weeks after the company was deemed a unicorn startup, and strewth, mate, the latest news does make me smile.


Because the company was founded by a creative, with the brand dreamt up by said creative, and it’s becoming a global cultural behemoth by being constantly, disruptively creative, funny and irreverent in its marketing. It shows that having a creative brain working hand-in-hand with business brains from the birth of a brand onwards can prove unbeatable. It certainly raises a smile for me as a fellow creative.

In March, Liquid Death closed a $67m fundraising round, which valued it at $1.4bn. The company aims to increase distribution in its domestic US market, fund new product development and potentially expand to countries around the world, like Australia–and it’s clearly not hanging around.

It’s the world’s fastest-growing brand in the water, sparkling water and iced tea market. Last year, it generated $263m in retail sales, with triple-digit growth for the third consecutive year. Yep, a £1.1bn company that sells water in cans, something you can get for free when you turn on the faucet.

And that gives lie to the genius of the whole endeavor - and the genius behind it is former creative director Mike Cessario. Liquid Death wouldn’t have hit the headlines (or the jackpot) if it hadn’t been for his unique creative vision that underpins everything. Disruption, irreverence and humor are baked into Liquid Death’s DNA.

It started 10 years ago when Cessario was working on an ad campaign about the health risks of sugary energy drinks. His idea was canned water that poked fun at energy drinks. The client didn’t like it, but Cessario had his lightbulb moment—what if you could make water as cool as energy drinks?

After all, most water brands position themselves as lovely, natural, and, well, a bit twee—but they all come in plastic bottles so they're not really any of those things. So he brainstormed the “dumbest name possible” and settled on the inherently funny Liquid Death—you can drown in water, after all.

He put it into research and models obviously hated it. That’s when he realized he was on to something. So taking that logic further, he put it into cans that look like tallboy cans of beer to actually make it more environmentally friendly than plastic and created a counter-cultural death metal-esque melting skull logo with gothic text branding.

Without the backing of a huge corporation, he didn’t have the money for traditional marketing, so Cessario knew a memorable brand identity was crucial and that social media would be key to cutting through.

He registered the name in 2017 and launched with a Facebook ad before he’d even started production, featuring a man being waterboarded with a can of Liquid Death. It was soon banned by Facebook – but not before it got three million views. Investors came on board and so it began.

Taglines such as ‘Murder your Thirst’ and ‘Don’t Be Scared - it’s Only Water’ followed, and the irreverence continued flowing from there.

You only have to look at this year’s Super Bowl, where instead of a multimillion TV spot during the game, it offered companies 'The Biggest Ad Ever' - space on 500,000 retail boxes of Liquid Death. It claimed this would double the reach of a match ad, as the brand sells in US stores visited by more than 200 million people per week - more than the record-breaking 123.4m Big Game audience. You’ve got to applaud such creative chutzpah.

Elsewhere, it has made double-entendre-laced videos featuring porn star Cherie DeVille (“Don’t F*** The Planet!), gross out-funny taste test stunts where people licked sweat off a man’s back, and took social-media comments slating them and turned them into a compilation of songs called ‘Greatest Hates’ with names such as ‘Rather Cut My Own D**k Off.’

Add to that merch such as heavy metal-style hoodies and casket-shaped flasks, which are as much a part of the offering as the drinks. As Cessario told The Washington Post, “Like every truly large valuable brand, it is all marketing and brand because the reason people choose things 98% of the time is not rational. It’s emotional.”

As the company manifesto states: “We’re just a funny beverage company who hates corporate marketing as much as you do. Our evil mission is to make people laugh and get more of them to drink more healthy beverages more often, all while helping to kill plastic pollution.”

With its launch Down Under, Liquid Death proves having creatively-driven irreverence and humor at the core of a brand from conception onwards can be a brilliant, world-beating brand strategy.

As a creative, I’ll raise a tinnie of Liquid Death to that.

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