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"Liquid Death: Did-They-Really-Just-Do-That Branding" — Dave Hopkins, Print Design Expert

Dave Hopkins (00:00): Hello, I'm Dave Hopkins and I'm the founder of Print Design Academy. And this is my love letter to Liquid Death.

Sam Thorogood (00:20): Your brand plus an emotional connection with your audience equals success. This podcast explores that middle part. I'm Sam, a brand designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much. As they share, we learn what makes audiences tick. Not with strategy or theory, but through that undeniable proof of successful branding: emotion.

Dave Hopkins (00:56): Well, it is an alluring story, as it was just an Instagram ad, so sorry to disappoint on the excitement there. But it came across my Instagram feed, and I remember this ad distinctly because it was just a picture of their can on a white background. It's got that notable skull on the front and Liquid Death in that sort of heavy metal font. And at the top of the ad, I think it said "people love us on the internet", and right beside that was this little message bubble. That read "over the top, sell your soul, is just deplorable. Try a new pitch that isn't for Satan worshippers". And just seeing that happened to cause me to kind of laugh and kind of question. What the heck is this? Because I'd never seen it before.

Sam Thorogood (01:50): Hmm, and what was it kind of like as it jumped out on your Instagram feed? What was it about that playfulness and that comedic edge potentially that really drew you in and made you want to stop? And actually, not just carry on scrolling.

Dave Hopkins (02:06): Well, it's a very simple ad in the world of Instagram when you're flying through the feed. You know stuff like that that kind of stands out and jumps out for a quick pause. And I have always been attracted to brands that are funny. Create just fun consumer experiences that make you say, you know, who does that? But in a positive way, not the negative who does that, but in a positive way while you're kind of laughing and smiling. Who does that? And that's exactly what that ad did for me. I looked closer at the product: who does that, you know, posts a hate comments like that as a promotional aspect of their product?

Sam Thorogood (02:46): And then did you, from that point on, kind of follow it up? You went on their website and started looking at their products, or did it stay at a quite low level? That was interesting, but I'm not going to necessarily take this any further at this point.

Dave Hopkins (02:59): Great question. So it was just that low level at first, and there were a couple of other similar ads that had different, you know, comment bubbles that kind of kept coming up and made me smile. But what that did is, you know, two or three times I've ever seen that it had me going. Okay, where can I find this stuff? I got to try it, and I went to the local corner store, found their product, and tried it. It's a great-tasting product. So you go from this ad to this taste experience, like, actually, this is pretty good, and it's kind of fun. So that starts to hook you in, but really, what kept me going and growing deeper with the brand is their consistent partnerships and ads that continued to have that same effect and make me go, who does that or that, like, what the hell? But while you're laughing and with excitement. Around the same time as those ads came out, they put out an album called Greatest Hates, where they took all these hateful comments from haters or whatever. They turned it into a record album and made the song lyrics for the record album. Around that time as well I was a big fan of Marc Rebillet, which I still am, but around then he was really blowing up, and they partnered with him, and in my world that was a relevant partnership. I was interested in him and what he was doing, and it was just so on-brand for both of them. And again, it just caused me to go even deeper and be more interested in the brand and everything that they were doing.

Sam Thorogood (04:31): Hmm. It's almost kind of anti-branding what they're doing, isn't it?

Dave Hopkins (04:36): It's a weird circle where it's anti-branding and, you know, posting negative things that people are saying about them are causing them to get bigger and better. So it's awesome. I love the style of advertising in those styles of brands.

Sam Thorogood (04:51): And for those that have maybe never encountered this brand before, what is the actual product? Because I think you know you'd scroll through an ad for Liquid Death. You'd maybe assume it was beer or whisky. But can you actually explain what the product is?

Dave Hopkins (05:08): It's so simple. It is canned mountain spring water. That's it. That's it. There's still, sparkling; they've since added flavoured sparkling waters, and now we're venturing into the world of iced teas as well, and I think they're doing some energy drinks or adding caffeine to some of the products as well. So, you know, growing the brand offerings of the product offerings all around that same core of the brand. And even recently, you know, going off-script a little bit here for you, Sam. They put out an iced tea called Armless Palmer, sort of a play on Arnold Palmer. You know the iced tea alcoholic beverage. And they got a cease-and-desist letter from Arnold Palmer Association or whatever it is saying that they can't use that name, they have to change the name. So they publicly posted that this had happened. They got this letter and announced the new name of the product was Dead Billionaire. So you're like, again, one of those moments that make you go, what the hell, who does that?

Sam Thorogood (06:14): Who does that? And their names are fantastic, like the flavoured water names. I was looking earlier today, and you've got things like Mango Chainsaw, Severed Lime, and Convicted Melon. I mean, it's just ridiculous.

Dave Hopkins (06:28): Yeah, Berry It Alive, Rest In Peach, like yeah.

Sam Thorogood (06:33): What emotions does Liquid Death evoke for you?

Dave Hopkins (06:38): So it's joy. Joy, happiness, anticipation for what sort of PR or marketing move is next, and I don't necessarily know that these next ones are emotions, but strength and dedication to their mission and their brand. So all of those are kind of wrapped up in there, but it's just all positive at this point.

Sam Thorogood (07:04): Because underneath the comedy, there is a serious mission that they're pursuing, isn't there?

Dave Hopkins (07:09): Yeah, there is, and the reason they're in cans instead of the typical bottles of water like all the other water brands is because they're against plastic pollution and they want to eliminate plastic pollution, at least in beverages, and you know the water industry. And by being in an infinitely recyclable aluminium can, they're accomplishing that, along with this crazy story. Amazing PR, humour, advertising, and all the other components that sort of sidekick this mission that they're on.

Sam Thorogood (07:40): But it's interesting, isn't it, that the mission is kind of almost like a Trojan horse within the comedic way that they're marketing themselves. I mean, they do have this incredible, you know, ecological mission, actually. But they're not necessarily leading with that. They're leading, and they're certainly leaning more into the comedy of how can we make this water product look like the most badass thing on the market?

Dave Hopkins (08:02): Yeah, and one of the great things that I got to experience the last week or so. Well, I'm sort of answering these questions as intelligently as I can. I got to review a lot of their older earlier-day promotions and videos and ads that they put together and the initial pull is that what the heck or what is this? Who does that? And then in that storytelling, they always talk about their mission. Plastic packaging and wanting to get rid of plastic, which is why they're in a can, but it's wrapped in this beautiful, fun, humorous 'who does that' shell, you know, just makes it so appealing to so many people.

Sam Thorogood (08:49): Dave, talk to me about the brand's visual identity. They have an incredibly strong visual identity, which they've managed to seemingly sort of solidify in the you know the short time that they've been in existence. But what makes it so powerful? And so appealing, in your opinion?

Dave Hopkins (09:05): So I'll dive into it a little bit deeper. But like that, the sort of umbrella to all of it to me is 'no fear'. There's this 'no fear' aspect to the logos, this dripping skull for water, and the heavy metal typography for a water product. You know, the colour scheme using metallics interacting with the aluminium of the can with these illustrations of skulls and dripping things. You know, things that you wouldn't necessarily see on any other water brand out there. So it's so different. Now the visual brand consistency between the ads, packaging, live events, and activations, all of their partnerships. It's all still so on-brand. And pulls you in in the same way with that. You know, I hate saying it again, but that who does that? The constant surprise in everything that they're designing and putting out there. You know, especially with some of the partnerships that we'll talk about in just a sec here. But adding new product lines, like the iced teas that we were just talking about. You look at all of the cans lined up, and there's this perfect differentiation with brand alignment on new products.

Sam Thorogood (10:24): And the founder was in advertising before he started this brand, and I think you can really tell, can't you, and they're certainly a brand that for me as a designer I appreciate that they appreciate design, if that makes sense. They clearly appreciate good design. They work with a lot of different designers, and there's a kind of way they utilise artwork and, yeah, design is just really, really powerful, I think, and I'm sure you, as someone who's in print design, you're loving that as well, the way that the packaging looks and feels kind of tangibly in your hands. It's pretty special.

Dave Hopkins (11:04): Yeah, and any time you can create positive brand experiences in print with print and packaging stuff it's always more impactful than just seeing an ad or something like, you know, started out on this brand with, and you know, in their partnerships that they've done, things like making... I don't know if I'm allowed to say bad words on this show, but...

Sam Thorogood (11:29): I can bleep you.

Dave Hopkins (11:31): Okay, perfect. But they partnered with Travis Barker from Blink-182 to make a real enema kit. With their water and an actual enema bulb. They partnered with Tony Hawk, put some of his blood in red paint, and painted some skateboards. For the Greatest Hates album, they actually printed a record sleeve and produced an actual record. They partnered with Tom Segura, who's a popular stand-up comedian, and made what they are calling a recycling glory hole for recycling cans, but it's all based around this bizarre world of doing things that are way outside the genre of water. Because they're not going to make a pile of money off enema kits, bloody skateboards, or hate albums. But it is the best marketing piece they could put out that has this pop culture touch.

Sam Thorogood (12:40): Just a quick one to ask you for a small favour that you can do right now. If you haven't already subscribed to this podcast, I invite you to hit subscribe or follow, whatever it looks like on your podcast player. And that just means that you'll see new episodes of Branding Love Letters as they come out. If you have already subscribed to this podcast, here's what you can do right now: I invite you to leave a rating, a star rating, or leave a review, a short review, and that just makes a huge difference to what I can do with this podcast: the stories that I can tell and the insights that we can gain into emotional connections to branding. Thank you very much. Back to the interview.

Dave Hopkins (13:26): And I think that's what's keeping them increasingly relevant. They're continually seeing what that you know, pop culture or who's blowing up right now and partnering with them in a completely on-brand way. You talked a little bit about the CEO of the company and I saw an interview with him where he said sometimes they sit down in a meeting and say, what is the dumbest thing we can do with this product launch, this promotion? And that's how they come up with some of these ideas that turn out to be incredibly successful. Not necessarily on the revenue side, but on the PR side, the marketing reach, and all of the publications, the ads, and, you know, the articles that get written about them, and it just grows and grows and grows and gets incredible ROI.

Sam Thorogood (14:16): Yeah, the virality is absolutely incredible. Did you see one of them, Steve-O getting a tattoo of the brand name on his neck, but it was in water instead of ink. Purely the pain of getting a tattoo with actually none of the benefit.

Dave Hopkins (14:31): Purely the pain, which is perfectly on-brand for Steve-O and you know it directly aligns with Liquid Death because it's not just a tattoo; anybody could go get a neck tattoo of Liquid Death. But no, this is Liquid Death mountain water. Yeah, just incredible.

Sam Thorogood (14:48): Have they done anything... You know, as you're talking, it sounds like almost their entire brand is built upon surprise. But has there been anything that's really kind of surprised you in a particular way?

Dave Hopkins (14:58): I would have to be honest and say that every single PR thing that they put out surprises me in some way. But it has always been positive so far. So I'll kind of put an asterisk on that and say that they're still a fairly young brand in the marketplace and for me, as a consumer of the product and a fan of the brand, there's nothing yet that's made me go, ooh that's a bit too far or anything like that. So it's never been difficult to appreciate and love the brand. But I'll say yet because I think when you're pushing the limits like they are, they're entering new areas for a water, I imagine that when you're doing things like that, there's going to be a time where you're going to overstep and I also have to imagine they'll put a pretty clever spin on it and probably try to make it fun, as I'm thinking out loud here.

Sam Thorogood (16:00): Yeah, they remind me a little bit of a Brewdog. I don't know if you came across that brand as well?

Dave Hopkins (16:05): I know Brewdog a little bit, yeah.

Sam Thorogood (16:07): In the way that they market themselves, they have, you know, gotten into controversy and hot water. Because it's this thing of always pushing it just a little bit too far and it makes for incredible virality and incredible branding, but it does also mean that there is that pushback. But like you say, they're a pretty young brand, aren't they? They've only been going for a few years. So it would be interesting to watch them as they step out and continue this kind of trajectory. I mean, how would you describe them because they are fairly young if someone's never heard of Liquid Death? How would you describe this brand to them?

Dave Hopkins (16:43): So there are a couple of ways that I would go about this. You know, one of the simplest ways that you could describe it is that it's great-tasting water with a heavy metal brand, heavy metal style brand. So that's like the easy way. Yeah, you know, you could tie in with the best PR and marketing in the beverage space right now. You could add that in to sort of further pique interest. But to really boil it down, if I were to explain this, and this came up because my daughter is a huge fan of Harry Potter. So I kind of think that if Metallica and Lord Voldemort started a canned water company, it would be Liquid Death.

Sam Thorogood (17:28): That's excellent. They should steal that for their next campaign.

Dave Hopkins (17:31): Yeah, it's open for them. I hope they pick this up.

Sam Thorogood (17:36): And how would you summarise your journey with the brand?

Dave Hopkins (17:40): Man, just an exciting wild ride! There is so much entertainment brought to something that's so simple and essential to life, which is water. You know, it's sort of like, what's the most boring thing you could take, and how could you make it incredibly interesting and viral, and I think that this is one of the greatest examples that we've seen, you know, at least in recent years for sure.

Sam Thorogood (18:10): And do you kind of share the brand with your friends and family? Do you talk about this crazy water company that you've found?

Dave Hopkins (18:22): It makes me so happy to be an ambassador for the brand, to the point where you know, I could tell Liquid Death that even my parents have had their mouths on you. Just that much, where it's like mum and dad. You got to try this stuff. You have to just look at the branding, and you know, I would say that in my introduction. When I'm introducing people to the brand It's 80% look at the brand and describe a couple of fun things that they've recently done. And then go, by the way, the water is great, too. So that's kind of like, you know, an afterthought that they've nailed because it's essential to the brand yet it isn't what I would describe as the primary talking point about such a public and outgoing brand.

Sam Thorogood (19:07): Dave, tell me more about you and where people could connect with what you're doing.

Dave Hopkins (19:12): Yeah, so I'm the founder of the Print Design Academy, where we are teaching graphic designers to be experts at print and packaging design. You know, learning how to crank out awesome boxes, can designs for maybe a company like Liquid Death. I'm also the host of The Quickie podcast, where I've had the opportunity to interview over 278 graphic designers and illustrators about their stories and their journeys in the creative field. And you can go to to find out more about both of those, or find us on Instagram @printdesign_academy or @thequickiepodcast.

Sam Thorogood (19:52): And The Quickie Podcast is how I came across your work, and I highly recommend it. It's a great resource, with just, I mean, so many interviews at this point. It's like, yeah. But it's a really, really good resource for designers. So I would champion that.

Dave Hopkins (20:08): Thank you.

Sam Thorogood (20:10): So I'd love to end this interview by hearing your love letter to Liquid Death.

Dave Hopkins (20:18): So before I read this, Sam, I have to say that I have listened to a couple of other episodes of the show and my love letter is not going to be similar to one that you've heard, I would say it's a little bit different. I'm sorry, and I hope you forgive me. I hope you forgive me for that.

Sam Thorogood (20:38): I'm very excited. Take it away.

Dave Hopkins (20:41): Dear Liquid Death, from the very first moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you were no ordinary brand. All it took was one touch that led to one taste, and now I'm hooked forever. I still get goosebumps thinking about your chilled liquid filling me. With your adventurous presence and with your unapologetic boldness, you have stolen me away from all other beverages. None of them murder my thirst like you can. I would choose you over licking an overweight, sweaty man basically 100% of the time. You are so kind and welcoming to new people, like the way you open your doors to your haters for song lyrics, ad copy or just to tase them when they can't honestly say that you taste bad. Some call you deplorable. Say your name is disgusting or call you Satan worshippers, but not me. No. You just make me smile, burrow my brow with excitement and softly ask of the universe. What is this? You're not just a beverage; you're a rebellion in a can. A liquid manifesto against the average. Your effervescence is not just in the bubbles that dance in your water, but in the very spirit you embody. You're like a heavy metal song in a world of elevator music. Although you have smash hit songs in all the other genres, too. I can't help but get moist in my mouth every time I see you. I am anxiously waiting to get my hands on your smooth, cylindrical body and quench the thirst within me. I talk about you all the time, and I'm always meeting other people who have had their mouths on you. I see you everywhere on social media, my favourite podcasts, and I have to watch from afar as you're out there touching other men. Tom Segura, Travis Barker, Marc Rebillet, Tony Hawk. I see what you're doing, and I can't stop looking. In a world obsessed with appearances, you dare to be different. Your tall, smooth cans adorned with skulls are a testament to your fearless identity. You refuse to blend in, and in doing so, you give us all permission to stand out. It's clear to me what your intentions are: to murder thirst, annihilate plastic pollution and spread your essence as far as possible. You're not just selling a product; you're championing a movement for a better, more sustainable world. You're always there for me, whether I'm parched, in need of a smile, a mountain water enema or just searching for a recycling glory hole to put it in: the empty can, that is. As I close this letter, I find myself smiling, thinking of the countless ways you've touched me and ways I have touched you. Consensually, of course. With every can I raise in your honour, I celebrate you Liquid Death. Here's to many more moments of rebellion, laughter, and pure moments where I smile and say, what? Sincerely, Dave.

Sam Thorogood (23:57): Well, Dave, that's definitely the most x-rated love letter we've had on this podcast, but I appreciate it. Thank you very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Dave Hopkins (24:08): Yeah I was trying to embody the Liquid Death spirit in the trying to go the 'no fear' route, the number of times I edited that thing was like, maybe that's too far. Maybe it's not. I don't know. So there we are.

Sam Thorogood (24:24): Thank you very much. Thank you.

Dave Hopkins (24:26): Thanks for your time, Sam.

Sam Thorogood (24:30): Thanks for listening to Branding Love Letters with me, Sam Thorogood. I'm a brand designer for startups, creators, charities, eco projects and church plants. I'm on a mission: equip these pioneering brands to bring others onto their journeys. If you're interested, you can discover more at Oh, and big thank you to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy Boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design