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Liquid Death: Beverage Positioning Strategy Marketing Example

Liquid Death: Beverage Positioning Strategy Marketing Example

Edgy Beverage Brand Seeks to Resurrect Profitability from $431M+ Lifetime Sales

Los Angeles-based beverage brand Liquid Death is driving rapid growth through its irreverent and differentiated positioning strategy marketing. 

Founder and CEO Mike Cessario drew upon his advertising agency and Netflix viral marketing background, graphic design degree, band experience, personal interest in punk rock, and sense of humor to create the first Liquid Death still water product concept in 17-ounce tall boy aluminum cans in 2019.   Fast forward to 2023, and Liquid Death chalked up $263 million in retail sales.

Package structure and graphics are a foundational element of the Liquid Death brand’s positioning strategy marketing. At the time of creation, the tall boy aluminum can was an unusual packaging structure for a premium water that supports Liquid Death’s  first brand tagline of “Death to Plastic” (since aluminum is “infinitely recyclable”).

Liquid Death’s package graphics showcase its skull logo supporting the “Murder Your Thirst” second brand tagline. Overall, Liquid Death’s package graphics are reminiscent of New Belgium Voodoo Ranger (launched before Liquid Death in 2017), a beer brand that is also sold in aluminum cans as well as glass bottles.  

Liquid Death’s unique (for premium water) aluminum can product structure and distinctive graphics were essential to its initial ability to break into the market as Cessario explains:

“I knew from my marketing background, if I’m going to create this brand, I’m not going to have any real marketing dollars, I’m not going to be able to buy eyeballs…The only way the brand would have a chance of survival is the actual product itself has to be so insanely interesting where so much of the marketing is baked into the product. If someone sees this on the shelf, am I willing to bet, do they have to pick this up, will they take a photo and put on social channel for followers?…

Liquid Death looks more like a beer can you’ve seen than a typical water you’ve seen.”

Claiming an inability to find any packaging capabilities in the US for putting water into cans, Liquid Death engaged an Austrian packer for the product.   On the can, the brand claims “natural artesian water,” with more positioning strategy marketing description online:

“Liquid Death Mountain Water comes from a deep underground mountain source protected by a few hundred feet of stone and contains naturally occurring minerals (aka electrolytes) that aren’t just good for your body, they will murder your thirst. Instantly.

  • 100% Mountain Water
  • Sourced from beneath hundreds of feet of stone
  • Natural Minerals & Electrolytes”

Part of the Liquid Death origin story shared by Cessario is that there was no physical product when the brand began advertising on Facebook, just a mockup.  After interest was created in early 2019 with Facebook advertising, Liquid Death had the physical product created, similar to the approach of a brand starting on Kickstarter or Indiegogo , but without using those platforms.  Says Cessario,

“From the industry, retailers will never put something like this on the shelf. I had to prove out that this was viable first.  So, we designed a 3D render of a can that looked real. I came up with a commercial idea for this brand that we shot for $1500…we made a Facebook page…just Facebook 2-minute-long video, and a couple funny social posts with can mock up that looked real. And I put a few thousand dollars in paid media to push the posts out. 4 months in the video had 3 million views, the page had 80,000 followers…Used to get seed funding and initial product.”

The Liquid Death brand was initially sold online to consumers from its website and on Amazon, starting in early 2019.  At this point, no one was able to look at it “on the shelf,” just online. 

For 2019, all $2.8 million sales of were onlineScience Inc., an early stage venture firm with a digital-first thesis that has invested in brands like Dollar Shave Club, led the $1.6 million initial seed investment for Liquid Death in 2019 as well as subsequent rounds.

In 2020, the brand grew to $10 million, primarily through the February 2020 expansion into Whole Foods retail stores as well as online.  Cessario explains,

“Our first big retailer was Whole Foods. Started talking with them in late 2019…They are really big on sustainability…They liked our death to bottles message. We were making sustainability fun and funny, and more approachable.”

The Liquid Death brand continued to expand its distribution and grow, with 2021 sales reaching $45 million, and retail scanned sales of $110 million in 2022.  In 2023, Liquid Death finished with $263 million in retail scanned sales, with distribution in both the US and the UK.   

Liquid Death’s high growth allows it to tout several recent accomplishments:

  • The fastest-growing top water and top iced brand (from SPINS)
  • The second largest ready-to-drink tea on Amazon by total sales
  • The top dollar contributor in the convenience channel for the flavored sparkling water category
  • Liquid Death Mountain Water was awarded a designation of “Wavemaker” in North America by Nielsen IQ for 2023. The Wavemaker designation is given to “promising new launches with strong velocities”

To date, the brand has not achieved profitability, despite this growth. Says Liquid Death CEO Mike Cessario,

“We’re making big strides to get there and have an inherently profitable model over time.  Profitability is of the utmost importance, and this latest round will help us achieve that goal.”

In the near term, the Liquid Death company expects to use the $67 million recently-raised 2024 funding for scaling operations and product innovation.  The Liquid Death brand has expanded its product range from the initial still water to sparkling water, flavored sparkling water, tea and Death Dust.  Death Dust, a powdered hydration stick, is a recent example of the brand’s product innovation outside of the core aluminum canned products.

Liquid Death: Beverage Positioning Strategy Marketing Example

Positioning Strategy Marketing Adventures for Liquid Death

Effective positioning strategy marketing is a major driver behind Liquid Death brand’s growth.

To that end, CEO Cessario sees the brand as in the entertainment business as much as the beverage business.  He envisions constantly evolving the brand’s marketing to entertain and get attention.  Says Cessario:

“We were thinking too small, like a typical beverage brand about who the audience would be but we are creating an entertainment company and a beverage company…we don’t want to create marketing, we want to entertain people…actually making them laugh.”

To understand a bit of the strategy behind the marketing, let’s examine the Liquid Death brand positioning framework:

  • To target [everyday consumers who don’t always think to make healthy choices, but like the idea of a healthier choice],
  • For frame of reference [a refreshing beverage],
  • Brand [Liquid Death] is point of differentiation [a thirst quenching, sustainable and entertaining brand],
  • Because reasons to believe [it has electrolytes (for thirst quenching). The aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable (for sustainability savvier choice vs. plastic that the consumer can feel good about), and the marketing and product packaging are entertaining].

Cessario is clear that Liquid Death water does not taste better or different than other premium waters.  The brand’s differentiation must come from its marketing, along with packaging graphics and structure.

“In packaged goods, it’s really not taste…. Taste isn’t why.  We do use real spring water, people like this is real water from a mountain.  They want to know it’s good water, even if they can’t taste the difference.”

The target customer for Liquid Death is an everyday consumer who makes both healthy and unhealthy product choices. The brand is not focused on health fanatics.  This is a good example of a psychographic target. Says Cessario:

“All of these people who don’t typically make healthy decisions to all of a sudden want to participate in a healthy brand from the brand standpoint at first, and they just begin incorporating it into their day.”

Demographically, one source found the Liquid Death consumer is more likely to be male, under the age of 35, with a household income over $50,000.

While the brand has executions targeting moms and women, the male target is its core.  Of note, Cessario claims earlier career success positioning his irreverent humor to young men. 

One positioning strategy marketing example he cites is helping to create the “Save the Bros” advertising campaign for Organic Valley.  This campaign positioned Organic Fuel recovery shakes as a better choice for “bros” because bros are unaware of the scary chemicals and artificial ingredients inside other shakes.   The advertising suggests that selecting the Organic Fuel recovery shake could “be the first step to help bros to make healthier life choices.”   Images are shown of bros practicing yoga, pottery and other stereotypically female healthy lifestyle choices.

Example consumer profiles for Liquid Death given by Cessario include construction workers who ordinarily choose less healthy options from convenience stores and mothers buying this brand for their children to get them to drink water that looks like it’s forbidden.

The two Liquid Death taglines of “murder your thirst” and “death to plastic” convey that the refreshing benefit and the ability to feel better about the choice because it is aluminum and “infinitely recyclable.”

While the health and wellness space is full of brands with serious health claims, Liquid Death’s brand personality and tone is irreverent.  

“It uses irreverent humor in its communications as opposed to the normal purity signaling of the (bottled water) category. It treats every move it makes as an opportunity to demonstrate its rebellious voice as an extension of its worldview.”

Liquid Death’s VP of Creative Andy Pearson says:

“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.”

Liquid Death takes its positioning strategy marketing inspiration from alcoholic and junk food brands, unlike competitive premium water brands such as Fiji Water, Evian or San Pelligrino.  Says Cessario:

“Made me think about why aren’t there more healthy products that still have funny, cool, irreverent branding…Most of the funniest, irreverent branding is all for junk food…like Bud Light, Dos Equis, Doritos, Snickers, Red Bull.”

Elements of the Liquid Death brand strategy and positioning strategy marketing include:

  • “Murder Your Thirst” and “Death to Plastic” taglines
  • Melting skull logo prominently featured on the packaging
  • Demons, devils and punk rock
  • Outrageous and irreverent marketing that is “entertainment,” because “people like entertainment, but hate ads…and porn and punk rock sell water.” A few marketing examples:
    • Killer Baby Name generator” providing a free 18-year supply of the product to parents who legally give their child a name from the generator

Today, Liquid Death has 18 times the followers on TikTok (5.3 million) than Facebook (288 thousand).   Similarly, energy drink Celsius has 3.7 million followers on TikTok and 192 thousand on Facebook

Despite starting out on Facebook, Liquid Death is outpaced by other water brands like Evian (1.5 million), Sanpellegrino (925 thousand) and Fiji Water (694 thousand),  who all have substantially higher numbers of Facebook followers.

Marketing channels of focus for Liquid Death are Youtube, TikTok and Instagram.  Liquid Death outpaces premium water competitors Fiji Water and Sanpellegrino on both TikTok and Instagram.

4 Examples of Liquid Death’s Positioning Strategy Marketing

Let’s look at four examples of Liquid Death’s specific marketing executions, starting with the initial advertisement that launched the brand (despite dissing marketing and advertising, the brand was launched with a Facebook advertisement).

Positioning Strategy Marketing Example #1:
Liquid Death: Deadliest Stuff on Earth

First posted on YouTube on Jan, 21 2019, this is the launch commercial for Liquid Death, with five million views.   The shot features a beautiful professional actor who attacks the concepts that “water is a girlie drink for yoga moms.”  Humorously, water is deadly (e.g., surfers).  “Water is not yoga, water is liquid death…a brand parents will hate and kids might love.” At the end of the commercial, we see that the actress is waterboarding a hooded man throughout the commercial to support the idea that water is deadly. 

The target appears to be appealing humorously to a juvenile male mindset of teens, tweens and young adult men who aren’t interested in purchasing “girlie” bottles of water with pictures of flowers on them (Hi, Fiji). In fact, they’ve probably never wandered down the premium bottled water aisle on purpose.

Positioning Strategy Example #2:
Liquid Death: Hey Kids, Murder Your Thirst

This 2019 spot with one million views on YouTube calls out kids as the stated target and posits that water is really hard core and good at killing people (in line with the first execution).   The target is boys (and girls who might like to watch a beheading).

 The spot begins with a mountain setting and idyllic music playing, states that the Liquid Death water is “sourced and bottled in majestic mountains. Liquid Death mountain water will murder your thirst.” 

The mood quickly shifts to an axe wielding Liquid Death humanized can beheading various men in the commercial, including a camera crew and Hollywood executive. It’s reminiscent of adult animated comedies like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Rick and Morty.

Positioning Strategy Marketing Example #3:
Liquid Death TV Spot, ‘Keep the Underworld Beautiful’

According to, this advertisement was first published on October 29, 2021 with distribution on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  

The spot focuses on the ecological promise of Liquid Death’s aluminum cans, by presenting the imaginary problem that the underworld is becoming polluted by plastic bottles.  The narrative,

Billions of plastic bottles being thrown away and polluting the earth are now piling up in the underworld as well…The demons of the underworld encourage you to stop polluting their demon oceans and choking their demon turtles with plastic bottles…To help bring death to plastic use, the demons suggest drinking Liquid Death Mountain Water to keep their underworld beautiful.”

In this execution, the target consumer focus is less clear, perhaps someone who is both “countercultural” but also interested in “saving the world” somehow by drinking Liquid Death.  In the words of one viewer:

The other one had a clearer purpose to appeal to a juvenile boy.”

According to one source, Liquid Death’s aluminum cans are lined with plastic, meaning that the underworld will not be completely safe with Liquid Death.

Positioning Strategy Marketing Example #4:
Liquid Death Big Game Commercial with Kids Hydrating at a Party

This execution, published February 2022 on iSpotTV, has three million YouTube views. It was inspired by moms who wrote to Liquid Death on social saying that they were happy their child would drink Liquid Death because it looked like a forbidden drink.  Mom reported she was happy her kid was drinking water, and her kid was happy to drink something that looks like an adult beverage that’s edgy or cool.

The brand is aggressively showcasing girls in this spot and trying not to gender its appeal.  This is a different direction from its origin spot’s appeal to masculinity. The spot promises that drinking Liquid Death is a deeply funny and edgy thing to do as a child.  The strange part is it might seem that Mom is encouraging her children to drink alcohol, even though we know it’s water, since the children appear hopped up in the spot. 

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see future Liquid Death marketing executions, and if the brand can succeed in its goal to out-market the competition, many of whom have deeper pockets and stronger business systems. 

Additionally, it will be instructive to see if Liquid Death achieves profitability in 2024.   Given results to date, the path to profitability appears questionable using Liquid Death’s current business system. 

AriZona, a leading ready-to-drink iced tea brand, sold in tall boy aluminum cans with bright graphics has demonstrated strong staying power (since 1992).  The AriZona line is well beyond tea, the starting product.  Like Liquid Death, the original product was in a tall aluminum can with distinctive package graphics.

innovation—a 24-ounce tallboy can of iced tea, dressed in flamboyant pastels and priced at just 99 cents—was bigger, bolder and a better bargain than the competition. It was a hit.”

AriZona consistently downplays advertising investment. Instead, AriZona keeps its focus on “three pillars…If you make it look good, taste good and you price it fair, people will come to it.”  Arizona co-founder and billionaire Don Vultaggio still owns the business, and one source estimated total sales at over $4 billion, another suggested the tea business is over $2 billion.  

It will be interesting to see if Liquid Death can demonstrate AriZona’s lasting business success given Liquid Death’s heavy focus on entertainment investment, and current lack of profitability.

Another option is that Liquid Death and its investors are planning for a partnership or buyout from a larger company with a more cost-advantaged supply chain and deeper overall pockets.    And, if the brand is purchased by a large public company, it will be interesting to see if the marketing can remain as edgy and controversial.   Says Cessario,

“It’s going to give us options for what we want to do, whether that is an IPO or whether that is (a) strategic partnership with a larger company…That’s what we’re really trying to preserve, is optionality.”

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