Murdering a market with daring distinctiveness: Liquid Death

Post by Charlotte White, Managing Partner based in New York.

We questioned whether Gatorade’s stretch to Unflavoured Water was “Dumb or Genius” in a recent brandgym blog. Time will tell which category Gatorade Water finally falls into. However, Liquid Death is a brand that has earnt the genius label, for its positioning, marketing and brand stretch . In just a few years, the Liquid Death brand has completely turned the water category on its head. It smashed through $250million retail sales last year, to become the fastest growing water and iced tea brand (1).

So, how did Liquid Death, in the words of the brand, “murder” the refreshment market? The answer is by being daringly distinctive across all elements of the brand, as we explore below.

#1 Disruptive Positioning 

Back in 2017, Liquid Death brand founder Mike Cessario saw the opportunity to disrupt the staid water category with a healthy, environmentally conscious water brand sold in a can, not a plastic bottle. However, this proposition on its own was not enough to cut through for growth and compete with the distribution and supply chain firepower of Pepsi and Coke.  

So instead of trying to create a brand within the classic functional codes of the water category (purity, source, ingredients),  Mike drew on more dynamic, edgy categories like craft beer and energy for inspiration. He and the team harnessed the energy and attitude of ‘unhealthy’ brands playing in these spaces, something none of his water competitor set were doing at time.

In the process, the dumbest idea for a water brand turned into brilliantly punk approach to ‘murdering thirst’, killing plastic and reinventing the category.

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 the while helping to kill plastic pollution’

#2 Disruptive identity

From the get go, Liquid Death had a very disruptive visual identity. This was underpinned by a simple set of distinctive brand assets (logo, type face, melting skull visual) and an irreverent tone of voice that showed up consistently across all touchpoints.  

Whether that was in the gallows humour of ‘selling your soul’ when you signed up to their loyalty club, buying a ‘casket’ instead of a case or buying ‘Severed Lime’ flavoured water.

In combination these laddered back up to build one unmistakable masterbrand identity.

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

Mike Cessario NBC Online, March 2024

#3 Distinctive Comms

Liquid Death’s marketing leverages the power of creativity and humour to connect emotionally with consumers and build up a cult following. The stated intent is to be an entertainment company as much as a drinks brand. The Liquid Death brand acts more like Red Bull or Monster, rather than a classic water of soft drinks brand.

“At the end of the day, we’re really creating an entertainment company and a water company.  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.” 

 Mike Cessario NBC Online, March 2024

From the start, the brand adopted a social media first approach, amassing 5 million followers on TikTok, 2.9million on Instagram. They have recently taken content creation to a whole new level by creating a fake viral trailer for an animated film ‘The Adventures of Murder Man’. Liquid Death corporation is the evil villain of the piece and Murder Man the hero!  Rejecting all classic marketing tropes creates a very entertaining piece of content that brilliantly ‘bakes in’ the brand’s anti-marketing ethos.

Mike and the team also recognized the power of merchandise as a powerful awareness driving lever early on. From  t-shirts, caps and sweat shorts, to ‘severed head pomade’ car sunshades and neon signs, the merchandise options are endless! Who needs influencers when your consumers are out and about in the real world paying to advertise your brand in so many different ways?!

4) Bold Brand Stretch

The Liquid Death brand march over the last couple of years has been relentless, including core range extension and brand stretch.

From expanding its water footprint with Flavoured Sparkling Waters to entering adjacent categories like Iced Tea (2022) and ‘Death Dust’ electrolyte drink powders (2024). All these mature categories are ripe for Liquid Death’s particular take on reinvention.   

Bringing the same irreverent twist to each new category, Liquid Death importantly recognizes the importance of continuing to build on its distinctive brand assets. In rigorously reinforcing the assets and design system to each launch, the expanding architecture works hard to build a powerful masterbrand.  

Brand stretch doesn’t just stop there.  The brand has also played with diverse brand partnerships to build fame and excitement. A great example of which is the E.L.F x Liquid Death limited edition ‘Corpse Paint’ launched suspiciously close to April Fool’s Day and now out of stock.

5) Leading by example

Finally, what makes Liquid Death such a great case study is the way in which the brand is also ‘baked into’ the business culture.  In the people they hire, their investors (how many brands can claim Josh Brolin as a new investor?) and they way they do business. 

It is no coincidence given the entertainment intent of the brand and Mike Cessario’s own creative background that the brand has built a talented in house team full of people drawn from the world of media and entertainment. He is a great example of what we call a “brand CEO”: the living, breathing dramatisation of the brand who leads by example, not by words.

In conclusion

Being daringly distinctive across every touchpoint with a bold challenger spirit has allowed Liquid Death to create a strong brand-led business. It will be interesting to see how Liquid Death continue to meet investors’ growth expectations, growing the core whilst supporting portfolio expansion. Watch this space for a future update!


1. Sales performance