Balancing Empathy with Sustainability: Liquid Death CEO Discusses the Evolution of Canned Water
With the world so focused on COVID-19, it’s easy to deprioritize other issues important to brands and consumers, like purpose, sustainability and environmental impacts. A brand must walk a delicate tightrope between remaining sensitive to what is happening during the crisis while also staying true to its purpose and sustainability statements. Liquid Death, a canned water brand, is doing just that. They use cans instead of plastic as aluminum is infinitely recyclable as well as look cooler to those who choose not to drink alcohol and soda. And, they do this while bringing a bit of humor to consumers in a tricky time. I spoke with their founder and CEO, Mike Cessario to learn more.
Click HERE to watch the video interview or read below for the transcript
Jeff Fromm: Liquid Death. First, I’d like to know a little bit about the backstory of this irreverent brand: how does it fit into today’s culture and what can other people learn from how your brand is operating during the crisis?
Mike Cessario: Liquid Death started as a culmination of all these different things that I was into. I grew up playing in punk rock bands and metal bands and was very much a part of that culture and still am. I think what most people are surprised about is how many people in that world actually care [about health]. I’m willing to say there’s probably more vegans at the Cannibal Corpse show than a Taylor Swift show.
But healthy products are really only marketed to a very narrow customer, even though especially now in 2020, health is just a way, way wider thing than it ever was. Everything’s going healthier and all the big alcohol companies are freaking out because kids that are 19 and 20 now aren’t drinking near as much alcohol as they were when I was 19 or 20. They care about being healthier and all these kinds of things.
We saw this space: I haven’t had soda in years and I eat vegetarian most of the time, but there’s no healthy brands that market to this world that I’ve been a part of. It’s always energy drinks, it’s soda, it’s beer, it’s candy, it’s fast food, it’s all junk food that markets to that, action sports, punk rock, rock and roll, kind of metal, more male-focused consumer. So the idea was, all right, people don’t drink enough water. How do we make a brand for more and different kinds of people who want to drink water more often? How do we make water fun?
As marketers, how do we make everybody associate our brand with fun and party life? Nobody does that with healthy things. Healthy things are done in a more responsible tone, “This is what you should do. You could look better one day if you do this.” It’s just a very different tone, so we found a way to put water in a tallboy can that looks more like beer, because I think the insight that we had was if you want teens to actually want something, you should actually market it to people in their 20s. If you’re trying to market to teens, teens won’t think it’s cool, but 12-year-olds will think it’s cool.
We wanted this thing to feel like it’s adult water and put it in a way where if someone doesn’t drink alcohol for whatever reason, whether you’re taking a break or you’re a designated driver or you’re sober, it feels way cooler to walk around with a Liquid Death at a bar for a festival, at a concert, than it does a glass of water or an Aquafina.
And then the flip side, the other thing that we do care about, is sustainability, so aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable and I think everyone knows that plastic bottles are like the new tobacco. Everybody’s trying to get rid of them. Starbucks is getting rid of plastic straws. Marriott’s getting rid of plastic straws. It’s only a matter of time before plastic bottles really just go away. And aluminum is really one of the only materials that is consistently recycled.
Most people don’t realize when you throw your plastic bottle in a blue bin, it goes to a recycling facility and then they send it to a landfill. And the same thing happens with glass in a lot of places, and the same thing happens with box water, because all of those things require special processes where they’re not profitable to recycle. So unless they’re subsidized by somebody, the recycling facilities would go out of business trying to recycle and process it. But aluminum and metal is easy to melt down into big bricks and then resell at a profit. So it’s really only aluminum that’s consistently getting recycled, and that’s the high level of what the brand’s all about and what we’re trying to do.
Fromm: And as we’re going through this crisis, are people more receptive to your brand? Do they want a break from the everyday? What are you seeing?
Cessario: What we’re seeing is people want humor now probably more than ever, because you turn on the news and it’s depressing just to think about what’s really going on and that you might not be able to go to a concert for a year is depressing. If you look in your social feed, most of what you see is humor. It’s people doing funny quarantine memes or trying to make light of something that is a very serious situation, because it’s the only way really to stay sane being stuck in your house all day. So I think people are gravitating towards a brand like ours even more. We get the question, “Well, because it says death and people are actually dying, is that a problem?” It’s like, “No, because the way we use death is in a really funny, light-hearted way,” and people are really kind of gravitating towards that right now.
We’re seeing more people sharing photos of our cans and stuff during quarantine because they want to put something funny and entertaining in the feed for their friends and family because they don’t want to share more depressing stuff. There’s plenty of that on the news everywhere we look. So I think coupled with the fact that water is something that people want right now, bottled water, and the fact that ours is actually fun and exciting, we got lucky, really, that right now is a really good time for our brand.
This article first appeared in www.forbes.com
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