Fortune recently published an interview with Liquid Death CEO Mike Cessario, who is described as being ‘like a lot of 41-year-old guys who used to work in advertising. He likes whisky, bourbon, and Italian spirits, and has a sense of humor that leans toward the satirical.’ However, he also created Liquid Death – a beverage company worth $1.4 billion.

There’s no reason that only beer can have that kind of cool look and feel.

Liquid Death sells canned water – and it’s the cans that are doing the selling. At first glance, the product looks like an energy drink or alcoholic beverage.

“Liquid Death is a funny brand,” Cessario told Fortune. “We don’t actually take ourselves seriously. We don’t think we’re extreme. We’re kind of making fun of all that extreme marketing.”

Liquid Death emerged from Cessario’s dislike of ‘self-serious branding’. Back in Cessario’s advertising days, the idea was first sparked when he was working on a client project about the health risks of consuming sugary drinks.

He had an idea to create canned water “just geared as a stunt to poke fun at energy drinks,” he told CNBC.

The client rejected the idea, but it stuck with Cessario for years. Along with collaborators J.R. Riggins, Pat Cook, and Will Carsola, Cessario trademarked Liquid Death in 2017, which he initially dubbed the “dumbest possible name.”

The company’s success lies in the fact that the brand ‘essentially markets itself.’ Cessario said:

“We needed to bake all the marketing and shareability into the product itself, versus something that is just reasonably interesting, and then you have to build this whole marketing campaign around it to make it actually interesting.”

He went on to explain that younger demographics (specifically Gen Z) react positively to brands that are self-aware and, critically, photogenic.

He said a successful brand has to have a high likelihood of a user taking a photo of it, “then post it on social for free to all of their followers to spread the awareness of Liquid Death without us having to pay for the awareness.”

In addition to designing a can that consumers are keen to share online, Liquid Death further targets younger audiences by working with influencers and celebrities such as Cody Ko, Tony Hawk, and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.

In fact, the pop-punk scene inspired Liquid Death right from the beginning:

The company was also inspired by a 2009 trip to traveling rock music festival Vans Warped Tour where Cessario watched some friends play a set. After the band members drained their cans of Monster Energy, they’d refill them with water. The dramatic green-and-black energy drink fit the vibe of a rock band, but the water fulfilled a need.

Cessario wanted Liquid Death to be cool, something that fit into a ‘party environment’ more than a plastic bottle of water.

The brand took notes from the overcrowded beer market, where over-the-top designs catch the eye of overwhelmed customers.

Cessario’s vision has been realised: Liquid Death is hugely successful, thanks to its eye-catching cans and ‘irreverent’ online presence.

The company doubled its valuation since 2022 and tripled its revenue in the same period, per Cessario. It sold $263 million in scanned sales in 2023 across 113,000 retailers in the U.S. and UK.

Whilst still maintaining its self-aware attitude, Liquid Death is expanding its product range.

“Death Dust” electrolyte powders, with flavors like “Severed Lime” and “Mango Chainsaw,” is its next frontier, a chance to make a bigger splash in a smaller market.

“It’s a small category, but it’s also very fast growing, and not a ton of super interesting brands in the space,” Cessario said. “So us being one of the only funny, sort of irreverent brands in there, we can still sort of have our own little place in it.”

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