Water brand Liquid Death is now testing physical retail

Liquid Death, the water in a can brand that’s raised $2.25 million in funding, is evolving its strategy to grow beyond its direct-to-consumer roots. Currently, the company is running retail tests in 7-11s in Detroit and, over the last 60 days, it has started to sell its water cans to distributors, which gives the brand a presence in liquor stores and bars. To help bolster the brand in those markets, it is considering running geo-targeted social ads to let local consumers know it is available. 

“We’re going to actually start pursuing the more traditional brick-and-mortar retail pretty aggressively,” said co-founder and CEO Mike Cessario.

Liquid Death is already working with alcohol distributors like LA Distributing, Dynamo Distributing in Texas, and both Atlantic Distributing and Wade’s Distributing in New England, which puts it in liquor stores and bars in those areas. “Water that looks like a beer is perfect for someone who wants to have water at a bar,” said Cessario.

Early retail results are positive. “In Liquid Death’s small 7-11 test outside Detroit, they are consistently outselling every premium water brand, and doing it without any discounting and without any in-store signage,” per a representative for the brand.

Since its official launch this past January, the company has spent 90% of its media dollars on Facebook and Instagram. The other 10% has gone to Google and Amazon for search. (The company declined to share how much it spends on media.) Much of its work has been done in-house but the company recently started working with independent creative shop Party Land. Following its most recent round of funding, $1.6 million from Science Inc., the company has started to use some of the VC incubator’s in-house resources for media buying.

But last spring, it was already creating content and putting paid media dollars — small pushes on Facebook using anywhere from $50 to $200 behind a video or a couple of dollars behind a static image post — to build buzz. Doing so was a way to figure out if the concept for Liquid Death would gain any traction, according to Cessario. It did — but consumers weren’t happy when they realized they couldn’t yet order the cans. 

“They were pissed off,” said Cessario. “We thought we’d have [the product] ready in the fall but the logistics of manufacturing are much more complicated than you think. I guess it’s a good problem to have people be angry that they can’t actually buy your product.” 

Pissing people off has been part of the brand’s overall marketing; social posts denote that the brand is “Proudly not for everyone.” And this past May, a Business Insider piece about the brand’s “punk” approach to marketing water went viral. 

That week, following the BI article, was the best in overall sales the company has had to date, delivering five times its typical weekly sales. (The company declined to share specific sales numbers.) “From a sales perspective, with all that press out there, it was the best week we’ve had by a long shot even though half of it was probably negative,” said Cessario.

In building the brand Cessario, a former creative director who worked for Donor, Trailer Park and VaynerMedia, focused on content that could go viral organically. To do that, Liquid Death took an “R-rated” approach to its content, making an animated spot in the style of a violent Adult Swim cartoon or a video of a woman pitching water as dangerous rather than just 

“A lot of good advertisers these days focus on content that also gets its own virality and shares as a bi-product of their ads,” said DTC strategist and consultant Nik Sharma. “Liquid Death is a perfect example of a brand that would excel on Facebook thanks to their story, their messaging, and their branding.”

The key to making that strategy work, per Sharma, is to optimize your distribution. “In their case, Facebook and Instagram are great channels of acquisition for the content they have,” said Sharma. 

“It seems like a cliche but if you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll be nothing to no one,” said Cessario of the company’s marketing strategy. “You have to focus on the audience that will go absolutely apeshit for your product.”


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