How Liquid Death Became a Social Media Sensation with Edgy, Absurdist Marketing

Liquid Death, the canned water brand taking the beverage industry by storm, has captured attention through brilliantly bizarre and entertaining social media marketing. The company’s founders understood one critical truth – in a saturated marketplace, simply launching a new product is not enough to get noticed. You have to shatter conventions and create a cohesive brand identity that truly stands out.

In a roundtable discussion, I was joined by social media marketers Ryan, Jaden and Parker who dissected how Liquid Death’s absurdist, anti-corporate persona allowed it to master the modern social media landscape.

The full conversation is above. If you’d prefer to read instead of watch the video, below we’ve summarized the key takeaways:

Finding the Differentiation Beyond the Product

On the surface, Liquid Death sells… canned water. Not exactly a riveting product proposition. However, the founders recognized cans alone wouldn’t be a sustainable competitive advantage if competitors inevitably followed suit and abandoned plastic bottles.

So they went all-in on branding, positioning Liquid Death as the antithesis of generic, “organic feeling” water companies that tend to focus only on purity and hydration. Liquid Death’s edgy name, mockery of mainstream marketing, and heavy metal aesthetic cultivated a distinct anti-establishment vibe targeted at younger consumers.

As Parker states, “They focused on absurdity. Absurdity was what their product was…they said, how do we apply that to everything?” This unified thread of irreverent humor became the key differentiator extending far beyond the product itself.

Building a Lifestyle Beyond the Core Offering

The team unanimously praised how Liquid Death successfully transformed itself into a true lifestyle brand – no easy feat when your core product is a beverage commodity.

Ryan expands on this: “They’re selling their brand, that identity. They’re leaning into making water edgy and at the core of their marketing, they want to make people laugh.”

This lifestyle positioning strategically positioned Liquid Death as an alternative to alcoholic beverages in certain settings. Their cans provide an edgy, non-alcoholic option that seamlessly fits music venues and bars where customers want to look cool without drinking booze.

Leveraging Shock Value & Speaking Their Audience’s Language

A common thread in the conversation was Liquid Death’s innate understanding of their target demographic – consumers drawn to counterculture rhetoric, harsh imagery, and shock value often promoted by (and understood by) heavy metal, punk, and horror movie fans. 

The team highlights how Liquid Death unabashedly leans into this sensibility, even embracing hate comments by commissioning musicians to create songs using hateful comments as lyrics. This perfectly aligns with the “zero f***s” attitude their audience loves from transgressive entertainment.

As Jaden notes, “They had a really good understanding of their target audience and their interests, as well as pulling in user-generated content to give a cohesive brand voice.”

Balancing Sustainability With a Bold, Entertaining Voice

While sustainability is central to Liquid Death’s value proposition of canned, recyclable water, the team insightfully recognized that they didn’t lean on environmentalism as their primary marketing message. Instead, the focus remains squarely on brazen humor and standing out from the pack.

As Jim states: “[The founder] doesn’t lead with sustainability…he led with Liquid Death and really backed into it.” This prioritization resonates with younger consumers who relate more to the overt edginess rather than being lectured about sustainability and also protects the brand from encroachment if/when another water brand matches its sustainability efforts.

The Importance of Varied Social Content Beyond Ads

A key insight was how Liquid Death diversifies its social media content, balancing traditional high-quality video ads with user-generated content, influencer collaborations, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and more spontaneous, entertaining posts.

As Parker explains, “They’re finding the ways to build in just the entertaining social side of it, in addition to having their ads…That’s where a lot of brands are missing out.”

This multi-faceted social content strategy aligns with how modern algorithms favor creative, engaging material over blatant promotions alone. The team focused on examples such as the “back sweat” video and one with a grandmother refusing to drink Liquid Death because of the name.

Staying Edgy Without Becoming Stale

While Liquid Death’s ascension has been impressive, the team acknowledged potential pitfalls as their presence becomes more mainstream. Ryan raises concerns about them dulling their anti-establishment edge:

“As a brand built as an anti-corporate marketing brand, anti-establishment brand, they’re starting to become the establishment…they’re going to have to be really careful in how they present themselves.”

Jaden proposes that more consistent visuals and brand colors on social could provide cohesion without undercutting their unconventional appeal.

Additionally, Parker cautions that betraying their commitment to sustainability could significantly undermine their credibility and brand identity, were it to happen.

At the end of the day, what makes Liquid Death a case study for modern social media marketing is their laser-focus on bucking norms and making their audience laugh above all else. By rejecting generic branding and advertising in favor of bold, tongue-in-cheek antics, they’ve carved out a distinct identity adored by a fervent following.

Liquid Death innately understands that capturing attention requires more than selling a product – it means selling an experience, a lifestyle, and a willingness to shatter conventions. As their success demonstrates, taking calculated creative risks can pay massive dividends in the social media age.

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