Murder, He Wrote


I’m clearly behind in my scholarship of drinking waters, so I’m just coming around to a brand called Liquid Death, featuring the tag line “Murder Your Thirst.”

I’m not a scientist, but in general, the word “murder” would seem to be antithetical to the idea of life itself, which is the essence of water.

Hell, we humans are made of water.

By contrast with sugary sodas and loaded energy offerings, never mind liquor, water is the drink of the angels!

And with so many bottled varieties floating around on these shores for the last 30 years or so, we’ve all learned to pay for hydration.

A counterintuitive response to the usual references to mountain lakes and heavenly streams, Liquid Death comes in a 16.9-ounce tallboy metal (aluminum) can (#death to plastic) with a logo lettered in the dumb macabre/occult style of early ‘80s death metal bands like Styx and Morbid Angel. A deft illustration of a floating, melting skull sets off the perfect death spiral.



Anything that makes fun of death metal bands (so earnest in their nihilist hypermasculinity) is funny to me. As such, it’s a clever, tongue-in-cheek product that is no longer niche.

Like the movie “Spinal Tap,” eventually the joke becomes real.

That’s because consumers get, and enjoy, the spoof and the non-alcoholic cover it gives them.

Death’s birth story is pure advertising, packaging, and social marketing.

LD founder Joe Cessario was an ad agency creative, with a background in design and underground music. (He was also a creative director at Netflix.)

He told CNBC that the idea for Liquid Death came to him while backstage at a Vans Warped tour music festival in 2009.

The sponsor was Monster drinks, and the band, required to drink out of the cans on stage, had replaced the energy drink with plain water to get through a long set.

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

Started in 2019, Liquid Death was launched on a meme and a cheaply made Facebook ad, offering an AI mockup of the product and some funny copy.  Within months, the brand had acquired 100,000+ Facebook fans, a higher number than Aquafina had at the time.

By then, Cessario had raised $1.6 million in seed money from a round led by Science, Inc. including Live Nation -- and the rest is death with a side of health, comedy, and inspired use of social media.

Live Nation made the brand the official water of music festivals like Governors Ball and Austin City Limits. In keeping with its contrarian, self-aware humor, and the idea that everything is content, in 2020, the company created a punk LP inspired by comments from internet “haters” with tracks titles like “Liquid Lame-O” and “Rather Murder Myself.”

It also partnered with Tony Hawke , selling skateboard decks – the claim was they were made with his actual blood -- for charity.

In 2021, the brand expanded, introducing a line of sparkling waters with a beer-like level of carbonation. Then came juice and lemonade-spiked teas with inspired names like Armless Palmer, which, due to legal problems, was changed to Dead Billionaire.

By now, LD was distributed at Whole Foods and Walmart, among a wide range of major retailers.

Even its 2022 Superbowl ad cost only $100,000 to make, according to Cessario, based on the idea that the drink had already reached a much wider audience than expected.  He knew from social media that kids were proudly chugging the stuff with their parents’ permission (“better than soda.”)

So in the spot, Judas Priest’s 1980 hit “Breaking the Law” rages as we see some innocent-looking 8- to 14-year-olds  yelling, dancing, jumping, and some almost passing out from all the hard partying and can-swigging they were doing.

 "Don't be scared. It's just water," a title card says, and with that comes the final scene, showing an extremely pregnant mom also guzzling away.

The company’s line of flavored waters was introduced with social media posts with tons of its own flava: “Feeling a little tingly inside? That is your thirst pissing itself in fear. Because Mango Chainsaw, Berry It Alive, and Severed Lime are all waiting in the shadows on Amazon. And these homicidal maniacs will show up to your door with free Prime shipping.”

Its most recent spot, promoting the film “Rebel Moon,” illustrates the soldiers’ fight as they crack open some Death cans and an announcer reads old Budweiser-beer-inspired copy.

Answering a question about how long the water company can keep this “stunt” going, the CEO said he thinks it will have a lifespan “like SNL….At the end of the day, we’re really creating an entertainment company and a water company.”

He added, “You’re giving them something of value. You’re making them laugh.”

Cessario now values the company at $700 million, which is dead funny.

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