Liquid Death water

Brand First, Product Second: The Liquid Death Blueprint

A visionary emerged with a radical concept in the saturated marketplace of branded bottled water. Mike Cessario, a former creative director with a penchant for the unconventional, looked beyond the liquid to the essence of market disruptor: a brand that could captivate before a single drop was bottled. Thus began the saga of Liquid Death, a brand that dared to quench the world’s thirst with audacity.

Inception of Liquid Death

The inception of Liquid Death was not born from the springs of innovation but from the wellspring of imagination. Cessario’s epiphany struck when he witnessed Monster Energy drink cans filled with water to serve punk rock bands’ needs. The message was clear: the vessel and its branding were more potent than the beverage. While most companies meticulously refined their product before branding, Cessario flipped the script. He posited a simple yet revolutionary question: What if the allure of a brand could precede the existence of its product? Turn water into a cultural statement that goes against the current.

His answer was a brand that would resonate with an edge—Liquid Death, encased in an eco-friendly aluminum tallboy can, reminiscent of a craft beer, yet filled with only H2O. The name itself was a declaration, a battle cry against thirst, emblazoned with a slogan that promised no less than the murder of one’s thirst. The skull logo and heavy metal typography were not mere design choices but precursors of a brand seeking its tribe.

Brand First

Before securing a source for his water or finalizing a supply chain, Cessario launched Liquid Death into the digital realm. With a modest budget and a video that showcased mock-ups of his vision, he sparked a viral sensation. The brand’s Facebook page became a beacon for those drawn to its rebellious spirit, amassing over 100,000 fans and three million views. This digital fortress of brand identity was Cessario’s proof to investors that Liquid Death was more than a crazy idea—it was a water movement.

Product Second

The physical product remained elusive even with a brand that resonated deeply in the virtual world. In America, water bottling plants are strategically placed at water sources to minimize costs—none were equipped for canning. Undeterred, Cessario looked across the Atlantic and found his solution in the Austrian Alps. The logistical nightmare of shipping cans 6,000 miles to their thirsty American audience did not deter him. When Liquid Death finally hit Amazon, it sold out at $20 for a case of 12.

By 2019, Liquid Death had stormed retail stores, racking up sales of $2.8 million. Fast forward to 2023, and projections soared to $250 million—a feat Monster Energy took 11 years to achieve. Liquid Death had become more than a brand; it’s a cultural statement.

Liquid Death thrives on the edge, its content brimming with horror, absurdity, and dark humor—not unlike the shockvertising that catapulted United Colors of Benetton to fame. It’s a niche carved out precisely, catering to those who delight in the outrageous.

Branding Blueprint

Is Liquid Death a fleeting craze or an indication of branding’s future? The success of Liquid Death has not only rewritten the playbook for commodity branding but also foreshadowed a seismic shift in how products will come to market in the burgeoning age of the Metaverse and virtual reality. Companies can architect and refine their brands in immersive environments in these expansive digital realms, engaging with consumers and building vibrant communities before a physical product materializes.

This digital-first approach is set to revolutionize product launches, allowing a brand narrative to be fully experienced and embraced in virtual spaces, creating demand and loyalty that transcends into the physical world. Brand first, product second.

GTP-4 edited this article, and the image was created by DALL·E 3.

Kim D. Rozdeba is the author of the award-winning book Branding Queens: Discover branding secrets from twenty incredible women who built global brand dynasties.