When Santa Monica-based Liquid Death launched with funding from neighboring venture capital firm Science Inc. in 2018, the Los Angeles startup world – and everyone else – had nothing but jokes. But with the company’s latest $700 million valuation, it appears the joke is on the rest of us.
“We believe Liquid Death may be the fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage of all time,” Science co-founder and Liquid Death board member Peter Pham wrote in an Oct. 3 blog post. “From our research, it took Monster four years and Celsius 12 years to reach the level of retail success Liquid Death has had in just three. Liquid Death is projecting $130M in revenue in 2022, up from $45M in 2021 and is on pace to double next year.”
Liquid Death’s valuation came on the heels of a $700 million Series D round led by Science, which included investors Live Nation, PowerPlant Partners and Hinge Capital.
Since Liquid Death is private, we don’t know their net loss figures.
"We're using Liquid Death's platform, which we built by creating viral entertainment, to shift consumption habits toward health and sustainability," co-founder and CEO Mike Cessario told dot.LA via email Tuesday. "People are stocking up on cases of Liquid Death for house parties and drinking more water at festivals... We've fostered a cult following that's translated into success."
Liquid Death’s website manifesto reads: “We’re just a funny water company who hates corporate marketing as much as you do,” Ironically though, it’s been their marketing approach that’s catapulted Liquid Death to become one of Amazon’s top-10 best-selling water brands.
Part of that approach included jolting the brand to ubiquity. If you’ll recall, the brand was everywhere seemingly overnight from the get-go. This was because the founders saw the value in taking a small loss first to bring their product to the masses – giving tech events cases of Liquid Death to expose people to the brand and, most importantly, get a local tight-knit circle of potential backers talking.
While Liquid Death has long been a staple at LA tech events, it quickly turned that trickle of interest from local startups into a deluge of orders from established retailers, inking distribution deals with national chains including 7/11, Amazon’s Whole Foods, Publix, and Sprouts. 7/11 initially accepted Liquid Death in August 2020 as part of a trial run for startup snack and beverage brands, and the deal stuck. The brand expanded to Publix and Sprouts stores by last December.
The other aspect of Liquid Death’s ingenious marketing campaign was appealing to sober punks or tech bros who still wanted to feel cool at a gig while holding a non-alcoholic tallboy. The brand quickly won over notable now-sober celebrities like Steve-O, who frequently uses the water on his podcast “Steve-O’s Wild Ride,” and helps the company’s mission to make drinking water cool.
It helps that Cessario is a former creative director for Netflix who knows the power of a good celebrity ad campaign. Last October Cessario recruited Chace Crawford to reprise his character of The Deep (from Amazon’s hit show “The Boys”) to become the company’s “chief sustainability officer”.
Liquid Death’s also recruited comedian Bert Kreischer, adult film actress Cheri DeVille and rapper Wiz Khalifa to do promos. Two years ago, Liquid Death surprised the advertising world by turning negative reviews into a heavy metal album for sale.
The metal album “Greatest Hates” was an attempt to turn bad publicity into sales, and it mostly worked. The album wasn’t a chart-topper, but it certainly got people talking about the product on social media, even the haters. They later doubled down with “Greatest Hates: Vol. 2” the same year, featuring more angry reviews. And a month ago, the brand signed a “pro waterboy” for $100,000 in an act that further solidified their tendency toward irreverent marketing campaigns.
One could even argue that the water brand’s marketing strategy has been so effective, it’s kept most consumers from asking thornier questions about Liquid Death’s business. The company’s calling card is “death to plastic,” but aluminum isn’t exactly sustainable, either.
Still, it remains to be seen if Liquid Death can take over the beverage industry. It is, after all, just one company competing against giants like Nestle, which owns a portion of the upscale water market with holdings in Perrier and San Pellegrino. Not to mention Coca-Cola, whose portfolio includes Dasani, Smart Water, and Topo Chico brands. But none of these brands have the “cool factor” Liquid Death is going for, so maybe its bombastic marketing will give these legacy brands a run for their money.
"After just six months in the market, our flavored sparkling waters are outselling Aha, Bubly, Poland Spring and San Pellegrino in stores," Cessario claimed. "We are the No. 1 dollar contributor to the water category growth over the past year in Whole Foods and are the fastest growing still water brand in Walmart over the last year."