We chose the “dumbest possible name” for the water

Let’s face it: water is boring.

Sure, it’s essential to your health, and few drinks can be more crisp or refreshing, but most bottled water brands are just plain bland and uninspiring—featuring the same interchangeable references to mountains, springs, or both.

More than a decade ago, Mike Cesario began wondering if he could change that. What if he could actually cool water?

That’s the relatively simple origin story behind Liquid Death, the ridiculously named bottled water brand that Cessario registered as a trademark in 2017 and officially launched two years later. It might sound like a joke at first — and it kind of was — but there’s nothing funny, or boring, about the speed with which Liquid Death has become the dominant force in the $350 billion global bottled water market, according to Pitchbook.

From its viral social media posts to its Super Bowl commercial, Liquid Death suddenly seemed to be everywhere — along with its catchy slogan, “Kill your thirst.” This social character is reflected in the jump in its sales, which reached $2.8 million in 2019 and is on track to reach $130 million in 2022.

“I didn’t think it would be this big.”

Cesario, a marketing professional with a background in design and the underground music scene, said he initially thought his waters would only have a dedicated following.

“I didn’t think it was going to be this big,” Cesario, 40, told CNBC Make It. “I think one of the most surprising things everyone has with this is how broad the audience really is.”

Liquid Death’s CEO conceived the idea meets punk rock musicians looking to stay hydrated during long sets, and any fans looking to keep up while drinking something healthier than alcohol or sugary energy. drinks.

Liquid Death now offers a range of still, sparkling, and flavored waters.

Source: Liquid Death

Instead, it’s found a whole lot of fans, from young adults who love the brand’s “cool” name and design to moms who want their kids to drink something healthy, Cesario says. Liquid Death packages its “mountain water” in a 16.9 fluid ounce “Tallboy” that can be adorned with a melting skull logo reminiscent of energy drinks or energy drinks like Monster and Rockstar.

Deep-pocketed investors like Live Nation Entertainment and Science Ventures and celebrity backers including comedian Whitney Cummings and members of the Swedish House Mafia are also noting. Collectively, Cesario said, the investors poured about $195 million into Liquid Death, valuing the brand at $700 million.

Liquid Death’s meteoric rise in just three years makes the company more than just a clever name – though Cesario admits that may be the biggest selling point of his product.

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

Inspiration on the Warped Tour

Cesario said the seed for the idea was sown in 2009.

He was living in Denver and watching some friends perform with their band at the Vans Warped Tour music festival. Monster Energy Drinks was the sponsor of the tour, so the musicians drank from Monster cans, but substituted the energy drink with water to stay hydrated during their sets, he said.

“It’s starting to get me thinking: Why aren’t there more health products out there that still have funny, cool, disrespectful brands?” Cesario said. “Because most of the funny, memorable, and memorable brand marketing is all junk food.”

Most funny, funny, and memorable brand marketing is all junk food.

Mike Cesario

Liquid Death CEO

Then, in 2014, Cesario was working on a public service ad campaign about the health risks of sugary energy drinks. His idea, he said, “to make bottled water was, sort of, just destined as a ploy to make fun of energy drinks.”

The client didn’t like it, but Cesario kept toying with the concept in his spare time. He said it took nearly two years to refine the concept and, more importantly, settle on a name.

Liquid Death has to be “insanely interesting” to survive

Cesario knew that if he launched his own brand of water, he wouldn’t have enough money to market it to the public in the traditional ways.

This meant that the name, and the brand identity, had to be the perfect mix of funny, bold, and cool—memorable enough for people to share on their social media feeds, creating free advertising.

“The only way the brand is going to have a chance to survive is by [that] The actual product itself has to be insanely interesting, as a lot of marketing is built into the product.”

So, Cesario turned to a marketing trick he said his team at Liquid Death still uses today: What’s the dumbest idea possible? He explained that if you try to think of a clever idea, then your brain is hard pressed to think of successful examples that are already out there.

Once someone picks something up, you’ve already won.

Mike Cesario

Liquid Death CEO

“You have to trick your brain into coming up with a bad idea in order to really think in innovative territory,” he said. “It works really well because you start to think, like, ‘Oh, what’s the stupidest possible name for a drink that’s so healthy and safe?'” Liquid Death. Possibly the dumbest name.

Once Cesario trademarked the name in 2017, he felt like he was on to something.

He said, “If someone I know saw them in a store, I’m sure they’d have to pick that up and be like, ‘What is that?'” “And once someone picks something up, you basically win.”

Social media was asking, “Is this real?”

Cesario was hoping Liquid Death would generate his own marketing, but he still needed the money to turn it into a real product he could sell.

At first, he was told by potential investors and people in the beverage industry that the design of Liquid Death’s cans looked too much like beer, which could confuse customers, and that “retailers would never put something on a shelf that said ‘Death’ on it,” he said.

“Nobody was going to write a check for this idea, because it was out there,” he said.

To prove that Liquid Death was a viable brand, Cessario took a 3D render of its packaging and created a Facebook page in 2018 to make Liquid Death look like a legitimate product. He shot a two-minute ad starring his wife’s actress friend that cost him $1,500, and he dipped into his savings to spend “a few thousand dollars in paid media” promoting it.

“After four months, the video has reached 3 million views,” Cesario said. “The [Facebook] The page had nearly 80,000 followers, which was more than Aquafina had on Facebook at the time.”

We have received hundreds of messages and comments from people [saying], ‘This is the greatest thing ever. Cesario said… Is that for real?

People have contacted the Facebook page to ask where they can purchase Liquid Death. Distributors of the beverage are in contact, Cesario said, looking for a sales representative so they can stock it in stores.

This reaction was enough for investors. After two years of pitching the idea to potential backers, Cessario secured $1.6 million in seed funding from Science Ventures in January 2019. Liquid Death began selling water cans to customers through its website that same month.

How long can the joke last?

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

In 2020, the brand expanded to Whole Foods stores, and had nearly $10 million in sales for the year. That number jumped to $45 million last year, as chains like 7-Eleven and Publix joined.

Earlier this year, Liquid Death launched a line of flavored sodas, with irreverent names like Berry It Alive and Severed Lime.

Now, the brand is sold at more than 60,000 retail locations nationwide, including Kroger and Target, where cans retail for $1.89 apiece. Liquid Death is the #1 selling still water brand on Amazon and the #2 selling sparkling water brand.

Cisario said Liquid Death “definitely” expects to double its revenue next year, which points to roughly $260 million in sales in 2023. But how far can a bottled water brand go on the basis of a good joke?

Many of the largest bottled water brands are owned by mega-conglomerates, such as The Coca-Cola Company, which owns Dasani and Smartwater, and PepsiCo, which owns Aquafina. Any of them could launch their own irreverent water brand as well, but Cesario doesn’t seem interested in the possibility.

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

Want to earn more and work less? Register Free CNBC Make It: A Virtual Event for Your Money on Dec. 13 at 12 PM ET to learn from financial experts how you can increase your earning power.

Open an account now: Get smarter about your money and your career with our weekly newsletter

How I created a food startup called Goldbelly

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: