How Liquid Death’s 40-year-old founder turned ‘the dumbest name’ and a Facebook post into a $700 million water brand

Let’s face it: Water is boring.

Sure, it is important to your well being and few drinks may be extra crisp or refreshing, however most bottled water manufacturers are pretty bland and uninspiring — that includes the identical interchangeable references to mountains, springs or each.

Over a decade in the past, Mike Cessario began questioning if he might change that. What if he might truly make water cool?

That’s the comparatively easy origin story behind Liquid Death, the mockingly named canned water brand that Cessario trademarked in 2017 and formally launched two years later. It may sound like a joke at first — and it type of was — however there’s nothing humorous, or boring, about how rapidly Liquid Death has grow to be a dominant pressure in a bottled water market that is price as much as $350 billion globally, in response to Pitchbook. 

From its viral social media posts to its Super Bowl commercial, Liquid Death abruptly appeared to be in all places — together with its cheeky tagline, “Murder your thirst.” That social cachet is mirrored within the soar in its gross sales, which had been $2.8 million in 2019 and are on monitor to be $130 million in 2022.

‘I did not assume it might be this massive’

Cessario, a advertising and marketing skilled with a background in design and the underground music scene, stated he initially thought his water would have solely a area of interest following.

“I didn’t think it would be this big,” Cessario, 40, advised CNBC Make It. “I think one of the most surprising things to everybody with this was how wide the audience really was.”

The Liquid Death CEO envisioned the thought catching on with punk-rock musicians seeking to keep hydrated throughout lengthy units, and any of their straight-edge — in different phrases, sober — followers seeking to sustain whereas ingesting one thing more healthy than alcohol or sugary power drinks.

Liquid Death now provides a vary of nonetheless, glowing and flavored waters.

Source: Liquid Death

Instead, it is discovered a big selection of followers, from younger individuals who love the brand’s “cool” identify and design to mothers who need their children to drink one thing wholesome, Cessario stated. Liquid Death packages its “mountain water” in a 16.9 fluid ounce “tallboy” can emblazoned with a melting cranium emblem paying homage to craft beers or power drinks equivalent to Monster and Rockstar.

Also taking discover are deep-pocketed traders equivalent to Live Nation Entertainment and Science Ventures and movie star backers together with comic Whitney Cummings and members of music group Swedish House Mafia. Collectively, traders have pumped about $195 million into Liquid Death, valuing the brand at $700 million, Cessario stated.

Liquid Death’s meteoric rise in simply three years makes the corporate extra than simply a intelligent identify — regardless that Cessario admits that is likely to be his product’s greatest promoting level. 

“At the end of the day, we’re really creating an entertainment company and a water company,” he stated. “We want to actually entertain people [and] make them laugh in service of a brand. And if you can do that, they’re going to love your brand because you’re giving them something of value. You’re actually making them laugh.”

Inspiration on the Warped Tour

The seed of the thought was planted in 2009, Cessario stated.

He was dwelling in Denver and watching some pals carry out with their band on the Vans Warped Tour music competition. Monster power drinks had been a sponsor on the tour, so the musicians had been ingesting out of Monster cans, however they’d changed the power drink with water to remain hydrated throughout their units, he stated.

“It started making me think about: Why aren’t there more healthy products that still have funny, cool, irreverent branding?” Cessario stated. “Because most of the funniest, most memorable, irreverent branding marketing is all for junk food.”

Most of the funniest, most memorable, irreverent branding advertising and marketing is all for junk meals.

Mike Cessario

CEO, Liquid Death

Then, in 2014, Cessario was engaged on a public service advert marketing campaign in regards to the well being dangers of sugary power drinks. His concept, he stated: “Doing a canned water that was, sort of, just geared as a stunt to poke fun at energy drinks.”

The consumer did not prefer it, however Cessario stored tinkering with the idea in his free time. It took him roughly two years to hone the idea, he stated, and, most significantly, decide on a identify.

Liquid Death needed to be ‘insanely attention-grabbing’ to outlive

Cessario knew that if he launched his personal water brand, he would not manage to pay for to promote it to the plenty in conventional methods.

That meant the identify, and the brand identification, wanted to be the proper mixture of humorous, edgy and cool — memorable sufficient for individuals to share on their social media feeds, creating free promoting.

“The only way the brand would have a chance at survival is [that] the actual product itself has to be so insanely interesting, where so much of the marketing is baked into the product,” he stated.

So, Cessario turned to a advertising and marketing trick he stated his crew at Liquid Death nonetheless makes use of in the present day: What’s the dumbest doable concept? If you attempt to consider a sensible concept, then your mind is hard-wired to consider profitable examples that exist already, he defined.

Once somebody picks one thing up, you have principally already received.

Mike Cessario

CEO, Liquid Death

“You kind of have to trick your brain to come up with a bad idea to truly be thinking in innovative territory,” he stated. “It works really well because you start thinking, like, ‘Oh, what’s the dumbest possible name for a super healthy, safest beverage possible? Liquid Death.’ Probably the dumbest name.”

Once Cessario trademarked the identify in 2017, he felt that he was on to one thing.

“If someone I knew saw that in a store, I’m pretty sure they’re going to have to pick that up and be like, ‘What is this?’” he stated. “And once someone picks something up, you’ve basically won.”

Social media was asking, ‘Is this actual?’

Cessario hoped Liquid Death might generate its personal advertising and marketing, however he nonetheless wanted cash to show it into a actual product he might promote.

Initially, potential traders and individuals within the beverage business advised him that the design for Liquid Death’s cans regarded an excessive amount of like beer, which might probably confuse prospects, and that “retailers will never put something on the shelf that says ‘Death’ on it,” he stated.

“Nobody was going to just write a check for that idea, because it was so out there,” he stated.

To show Liquid Death was a viable brand, Cessario took a 3D rendering of his can design and created a Facebook page in 2018 to make Liquid Death seem like a legit product. He shot a two-minute commercial starring his spouse’s actress buddy that price him $1,500, and dipped into his financial savings to spend one other “few thousand dollars in paid media” to put it on the market.

“Four months in, the video had 3 million views,” Cessario stated. “The [Facebook] page had almost 80,000 followers, which was more than Aquafina on Facebook at the time.”

“We had hundreds of messages and comments from people [saying], ‘This is the greatest thing ever. … Is this real?’” Cessario stated.

People contacted the Facebook web page to ask the place they may purchase Liquid Death. Beverage distributors bought in contact, searching for a salesperson so they may inventory it in shops, Cessario stated.

That response was sufficient for traders. After two years of floating the thought to potential backers, Cessario landed $1.6 million in seed funding from Science Ventures in January 2019. Liquid Death began promoting cans of water to prospects by means of its web site that very same month.

How lengthy can the joke final?

Today, Liquid Death has greater than 250,000 followers on Facebook and 1.4 million on Instagram.

In 2020, the brand expanded into Whole Foods shops, and it had roughly $10 million in gross sales for the 12 months. That quantity jumped to $45 million final 12 months, as chains equivalent to 7-Eleven and Publix joined in.

Earlier this 12 months Liquid Death launched a line of flavored carbonated waters, with irreverent names equivalent to Berry It Alive and Severed Lime.

Now, the brand is bought in additional than 60,000 retail places nationwide, including Kroger and Target, the place the cans retail for $1.89 apiece. Liquid Death is Amazon’s top-selling still water brand and second-bestselling glowing water brand.

Cessario stated Liquid Death is “definitely” anticipating to double its income subsequent 12 months, suggesting a complete of roughly $260 million in gross sales in 2023. But how far can a canned water brand based mostly on a good joke go?

Many of the most important bottled water manufacturers are owned by large conglomerates, equivalent to The Coca-Cola Company, which owns Dasani and Smartwater, and PepsiCo, which owns Aquafina. Any of them might launch their very own irreverent water brand too, however Cessario seems unconcerned by the prospect.

“It’s really hard to replicate the marketing,” he stated. “Really hard. People think it’s easy, and you’ll see people come out trying to do it and fall completely flat on their face.”

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