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Liquid Death: The Viral Canned Water Brand Killing It with Gen Z

Liquid Death: The Viral Canned Water Brand Killing It with Gen Z has taken the beverage industry by storm. This ‘rule-breaking’ US drink has recently landed in UK supermarkets, but what makes this water so special?

Founded in 2017, Liquid Death has quickly become a viral sensation, particularly among Gen Z. The brand, which started as an independent venture, is now valued at more than $1.4 billion. Last year, its global sales reached $263 million, with “triple-digit” growth for the third consecutive year, making it one of the fastest-growing water and iced tea brands worldwide.

Anyone with tickets to a festival this summer is likely to be struck by the canned drink with the alarming name that Gen Z devotees are carrying around with them. But the trendy beverage is nowhere near as sinister as it seems. In fact, it’s just water in a can.

Despite not selling a particularly innovative product, the independently owned Liquid Death, founded in 2017, is valued at more than a billion dollars. Its global sales were worth $263m last year. The company boasted “triple-digit” growth for the third consecutive year, becoming one of the fastest-growing water and iced tea brands in the world. In Britain, the brand secured its first supermarket deals with Nisa and the Co-op and is also available in Tesco.

But if the product on offer is simply water in a can – sometimes sparkling and flavored – the like of which has been available for some time on both sides of the Atlantic, why the hype around this drink?

The success is all down to clever marketing, experts say. The name Liquid Death itself uses shock value and humor, and, with a barrage of PR stunts – one of which included paying a “witch” to go to the Super Bowl and hex one of the teams from the stands – the company’s growth shows the power of creating a memorable brand. If that brand is so out of step with your competitors that it sometimes gets mistakenly stacked in the beer aisle, instead of with the other waters, all the better.

The brand’s founder wanted to hydrate young people at parties in a unique way. “We wanted to give people permission to participate in this cool rock’n’roll brand without needing to consume something gross,” said Mike Cessario, a former graphic designer and the founder of Liquid Death.

Alex Beckett, director of food and drink at the analyst Mintel, said: “The world has been crying out for a water that refers to back sweat in its advertising, is mistakenly stocked on Tesco’s beer fixtures, and takes design cues from Skeletor’s fever dreams.”

Megan Dorian, the founder of Orange PR and Marketing, said: “Its marketing stunts, including its recent campaign to give away a jet, create buzz, and generate significant media coverage, which amplifies its brand presence without the need for traditional advertising spends. This kind of guerrilla marketing appeals particularly to generation Z, who value brands that are willing to push boundaries and entertain. Fans of Liquid Death enjoy the ‘What’s next?’ element.”

When Liquid Death launched, its “murder your thirst” slogan was called “toxic masculinity run rampant” and seen as a gimmick. It comes in a tall can emblazoned with a skull. Many were skeptical, thinking it was just an attempt to sell expensive water to young people – its Tesco price point is £5.50 for four 500ml still water cans. But, as they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Within a couple of months, the brand had 100,000 fans on Facebook.

Rachel Egan, a marketing expert, said the brand was getting “Gen Z marketing spot-on” because it speaks to their concerns, such as the climate crisis. Another of the company’s mottoes is “death to plastic” and it says its aluminum cans are “infinitely recyclable.” “I even saw a flavor called ‘Dead Billionaire’ on their social media,” Egan added.

When Liquid Death launched, its fans ranged from young people who wanted to party without booze to artists and activists. The brand also collaborated with Tony Hawk, selling skateboard decks printed with the legendary skater’s blood to raise money for charity.

Dorian said: “The combination of a memorable brand and a commitment to social responsibility makes it a compelling choice for the eco-conscious consumer. Moreover, their commitment to sustainability is not just a marketing tactic but a core part of their brand identity, further solidifying their appeal. Liquid Death has effectively created a lifestyle brand rather than just a beverage. By integrating into music festivals and extreme sports events, it has fostered a sense of community among its consumers.”

But brands that live fast can often die young. Even a sustainable water brand is at risk of burning out. Jane Ostler, from the analysts Kantar, said Liquid Death needed to be careful it did not become a short-lived fad. “A clever attitude may seemingly get you a long way, but as a long-term play, the company needs to be able to predispose more people to the brand. At the end of the day, it is just water, so it’s limited in the margin increases it can sustain, and the packaging is something other brands can copy and are soon likely to adopt. Renegade branding is only one part of the equation.”

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