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LIQUID DEATH: PUNK ROCK'S ANSWER TO BOTTLED WATER
By Suzanne Forcese
Health, water and sustainability are the passions behind a start-up company that generated over $2 million in seed money for a venture that was designed to disrupt the bottled water industry in a big way using a quirky, edgy sort of punk rock irreverence in its marketing. And oddly enough it is working. Quenching our desire to discover why, WaterToday spoke with the former Creative Director of Netflix, Michael Cessario, the mind behind an innovative branding that has caught even him by surprise with its contagion.
It is water from a mineral spring in the Austrian Alps packaged in a tallboy aluminum can, clearly reminiscent of a crafted beer called “Liquid Death” with the slogan “Murder Your Thirst” and the pledge “Death to Plastic”. On the plastic theme Cessario has partnered with not- for- profits, Surfrider Foundation, 5 Gyres, and Thirst Project. For every can of Liquid Death that is sold, 5 cents is donated to help clean up the oceans’ plastics and provide infrastructure for drinking water in underdeveloped countries.
The former punk rocker and heavy metal band member who is in the process of moving operations and headquarters from the United States to Revelstoke, British Columbia, told WaterToday, “I wanted to take the healthiest thing on earth for our bodies and market it in a fun way.” Cessario, who has been a vegetarian since the age of 16, said “I grew up playing in punk rock and heavy metal bands and that scene is where I really got into health.” He does not consume alcohol, is a fitness buff, and sensitive to his role as an environmental steward. “Inside the world of metal and hard core, there is a subset of straight edge where they are very vocal about no drinking, no drugs, and saving the planet. That’s exactly the market we built this for.”
Cessario remarked that only the products that are unhealthy for us depict a fun lifestyle whereas the healthy products have a softer message. “They only market in one tone.” The bottled water industry has been droning with the same message for so long that we have become immune to the significance of the urgent action required to amend our behavioral patterns as far as single use plastics is concerned.
“With the thousands of messages bombarding us we discovered that 84% of millennials no longer believe that advertising is telling us the truth. Brands need to publish a content of ‘I want to learn’ or ‘I need to give’.”
Paralleling the entertainment industry, Cessario comments that most decisions are not rational but emotional.
People watch movies because they make us laugh, cry or be scared. In targeting the humorous side Cessario tapped into the punk rock ethos to create his brand of Austrian spring water. “We wanted to blur the lines between marketing and entertainment. The punk rock crowd gets this kind of humor.”
“There’s a whole ‘save the planet’ crowd and of course they are going to buy into any marketing that saves the planet. But it is preaching to the choir. We wanted to reach those people who don’t care about sustainability and educate them in a fun way that they could relate to.”
“In 2019 you only have 2-3 seconds to communicate your brand message. You have to say and do things that big companies would never do. The big mistake that a lot of brands make is they try to please everybody. We would rather have half the people passionate about our brand than please everybody. We also wanted a craft look. Most people are looking for that local artisan style these days, not the big brand look.”
Cessario admits that he is constantly amazed by the number of people who write to him with stories of their experiences which have really embellished the marketing. “We had one guy tell us he was pulled over by the police because it appeared that he was drinking beer while driving. We decided to work that by creating an insulated koozie that looks like a brown paper bag. We sold out in 20 minutes.”
It is the internet that has made marketing so different. Cessario contends that if this were 15 years ago there would be so many marketing hoops to jump through that the idea would not gain traction. “Today the celebrities are on youtube not the movies.” In fact, the internet youtube marketing campaign for Liquid Death began a whole year before production started. “Suddenly we were barraged with requests to be a distributor. So, we had to get started.”
Cessario also wanted to get more people drinking water for health reasons but not at a cost to the environment. Cans are more expensive than plastic but that’s exactly the reason cans are profitable to recycle. Recycled aluminum has good value to it. A recycling company can actually make a profit from it whereas there is no profit in recycled plastic because it is such low quality. Now that China is no longer accepting our garbage plastic it is just piling up.
“We were also pleasantly surprised at how much better the water tasted coming out of a can. And it stays colder longer.” There is also a kind of guilty thrill-seeking pleasure in drinking from a can disguised as beer. “It makes us feel like we are doing something we shouldn’t be.” Although the marketing was not aimed at teetotalers or recovering alcoholics or even the designated driver, it does help them blend into a social drinking crowd. “We knew we had something special for the heavy metal punk rock tattooed crowd, but we did not realize how broad an audience we were attracting.”
Why Austrian spring water? “We started packaging and sourcing our water from Austria because there was not a co-packer or bottler in North America who can put non-carbonated water in a can. Special equipment is required if you are not using preservative and/or carbonation as 99% of canned beverages use. In Austria we found a company that owns 4 mineral springs and has an immaculate plant that could accommodate our needs. Plus, we did not want to use factory tap water the way Smartwater, Aquafina, Dasani, Essentia and Lifewater do – most people don’t realize these companies are just using tap water.”
Cessario’s approach to educating people and changing behavior regarding the whole topic of bottled water and the indiscriminate use of plastic is unique. “What’s really in the DNA of the brand is pushing all the buttons and getting into things you’re not supposed to get into, but all rooted in this kind of fun trying always to avoid the traditional approach.”
“Positive change can be fun and weird and awesome.”
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