The Conquest of Liquid Death: CEO, Co-Founder Mike Cessario on Brand’s Rapid Rise

Liquid Death is conquering tastebuds nationwide with an alternative approach and sustainable focus.
Liquid Death
Courtesy of Liquid Death

With a tagline like “murder your thirst,” branding bombarded with skull-laden designs and flavor names like Mango Chainsaw and Berry It Alive, it’s clear that Liquid Death stands apart from its many canned water peers.

Nearly four years since its foundation, the eye-catching beverage is now carried in 16,000 locations across the U.S., including retailers like Whole Foods, Sprouts, 7-Eleven, and Target, as well as bars, tattoo parlors, cafes, and liquor stores. As the most followed water brand on TikTok, the second-most followed water on Instagram and one of the fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage brands of all time, Liquid Death is reigning supreme.

Co-Founder and CEO Mike Cessario unsurprisingly grew up entrenched in alternative culture, playing in bands and skateboarding, and he noticed most products that catered to that audience were energy drinks, sodas or junk food. Years later, Cessario worked in advertising and began pitching bolder ad ideas, including one campaign for the organic industry that went viral.

“And that was the moment I realized wellness doesn’t have to be dull or boring,” he said. “I took the skills I learned while in the industry to bring the same entertainment-first branding to healthy beverages like water.”

Liquid Death
Courtesy of Liquid Death

While one motive was to make health and wellness cooler and more accessible, Cessario wanted to make sure the brand was impactful. Each 16.9-ounce Liquid Death tallboy has text reading “#DeathToPlastic” and “We donate 10% of profits from every can sold to help kill plastic pollution.” 

Liquid Death is packaged in aluminum because, unlike plastic, it is infinitely recyclable. The brand also partnered up with non-profits, like 5Gyres, PangeaSeed Foundation and The Thirst Project, that fight plastic pollution and provide safe drinking water to communities around the world where drinking water isn’t immediately available.

After launching in 2019, Cessario admitted that some mainstream media outlets couldn’t wrap their head around the brand or didn’t believe it was just water. But that was the entire point, he said—to disrupt the multibillion-dollar water category full of single-use plastic bottles. 

“So some people got the joke and some didn’t, but that made people love us even more,” he said. “The brand grew exponentially as people saw what we were doing. We continued aligning with communities that believed in us, and that’s how we got to where we are today.”

Liquid Death
Mike Cessario / Courtesy of Liquid Death

Liquid Death was also intentional to obtain their water from a natural source, the Austrian Alps, as Cessario said the initial market research found that most bottled water products were just highly processed municipal tap water. 

The brand introduced a sparkling water option in 2020, and later on, Liquid Death Flavors joined the army (the two aforementioned flavors, along with Severed Lime). Cessario said the team wanted to create a product that landed between the “endless, bland, zero-cal, zero-sugar, zero-carb sparkling water” and unhealthy sodas packed with sugar.

“Liquid Death Flavors became their own category,” Cessario said. “They are naturally sweetened with a hint of agave and made with interesting twists—Severed Lime and Mango Chainsaw both contain hints of orange, and Berry It Alive is a mix of passionfruit and black cherry. Overall, our mission is to launch products that, in the end, help our fanbase make healthier choices.”

On Liquid Death’s website, they admit, “We’re just a funny water company who hates corporate marketing as much as you do.” Just above that statement is the Thirst Murderer, a cartoon character with eyes where his nipples should be; one hand gripping a Liquid Death, the other gripping his severed head; spikes jutting from his shoulders; and a giant, veiny can of Liquid Death fused into his neck where his head should be. 

You can even be the character for Halloween this year.

“We try to not take ourselves too seriously,” Cessario said. “All of our branding uses cheeky humor. Whether it’s asking people to literally sell their souls in order to join the Liquid Death Country Club or murdering thirst, our brand is meant to make you laugh and feel good about choosing to be healthier.”

Part of the Liquid Death fanbase, Cessario said, is made up of the people who got left out of target audiences for other health and wellness brands, which often target one type of person. 

Over time, the brand became a favorite within the sober and straight-edge communities, too. The Old English text, melting skull on the side of the can, full-bodied flavor, and tallboy size all work to create an ideal non-alcoholic drinking experience, though Cessario said targeting those communities was never a primary goal.

“We are thrilled that the sober communities continue to connect so much with our brand,” Cessario said. “Even if someone isn’t sober, more and more people are starting to look for drink alternatives they can enjoy at a bar without getting asked why they aren’t drinking. We’ve gotten such great feedback but the overall message is that Liquid Death allows people to skip the alcohol and blend right in.”

That said, a Liquid Death fan truly doesn’t look any one way, but they generally have a sense of humor, Cessario said. He added that more than 200 people have tattooed their logo on themselves and more than 200,000 “have legally sold their souls to us in an eternally binding contract to join the Liquid Death Country Club.”

“We’ve also gotten messages from parents who think it’s funny that their kids’ teachers call them for bringing a can to school, but also thanking us that we finally have their kids excited to drink more water instead of soda or energy drinks,” he said.

Courtesy of Liquid Death

And the inevitable domination persists, as Liquid Death continues sinking its teeth further into the culture at large. 

Steve-O recently teamed up as a brand ambassador to tattoo his throat with Liquid Death Mountain Water instead of tattoo ink, with all of the pain and none of the permanence. 

In December 2021, the company made headlines after partnering with Wiz Khalifa as a promoter of their new “Mountain Bong Water” collaboration. It was inspired by a video Wiz filmed himself, pouring Liquid Death into his bong. He said at the time he only smokes the best weed, “so it would only make sense to pair it with the best bong water from Liquid Death.”

On a since-deleted page, the product description read:

“What makes Liquid Death Mountain Bong Water different from our original Mountain Water? Absolutely nothing. We literally just added the word ‘bong’ to this page. You get the same great mountain water from the Alps with the same natural electrolytes in the same infinitely recyclable aluminum cans. But Wiz Khalifa likes putting it in his bong so we thought you might too. However, our lawyers say we should make clear that you should never buy a bong, think about a bong, write the word bong, say the word bong, or even draw a bong. In fact, close out of this page right now.”

Cessario said the wider cultural embrace of Liquid Death goes back to the company’s roots, and that while it’s a beverage, it’s also an entertainment brand.

“Every single campaign or collab that we do, we do it to bring awareness to health and sustainability but in a way that is funny, easy to digest, and enjoyable. We always try to diversify the talent we partner up with because we want anyone to look to Liquid Death and see themselves. In the future, we just hope to continue bringing you even bigger and better entertainment.”

Courtesy of Liquid Death

Long-time beverage brands like Jones Soda Company and Pabst Blue Ribbon have since entered the cannabis game, with THC-infused beverages projected to grow in the U.S. from $915.06 million in 2021 to $19,063.58 million USD in 2028. 

It leaves the question: Could consumers soon see a cannabis-infused Liquid Death offering?

“One thing we do know is that water and cannabis go together very well,” Cessario said. “You need to hydrate. And even sparking water is a better mix with your high than alcohol most times. But no, we don’t have any plans to do anything with a cannabis-based product any time in the future.”

However, fans need not worry. Cessario said Liquid Death still has a lot of projects in the works, along with some familiar faces throughout the music, comedy, and sports scenes.

Examining the brand’s continued mainstream presence and staggering progress, it’s hard to believe that Liquid Death hasn’t been a part of our culture for longer. Cessario reflected on the brand’s growth, looking at the road ahead with a final nugget of charming, on-brand snark.

“Right now, we’re focused on world domination and making all beverages Liquid Death one day,” he said, before adding. “Our goal for Liquid Death is to continue creating a positive brand that you can easily resonate with.”

1 comment
  1. Great read! As a fellow entrepreneur, I find it fascinating how Liquid Death was able to quickly gain traction in such a crowded market. Mike Cessario’s insights on branding and marketing are truly inspiring. The way he’s able to connect with customers on a personal level is impressive and something that every brand should strive for.Looking forward to seeing what’s next for Liquid Death!

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