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Liquid Death and the Power of Brand

Liquid Death is quickly becoming one of my favourite case studies on the power of a brand.


Because Liquid Death is a 500ml can of water... with a price "starting at $1.99".

In some parts of the world, where clean water isn't readily available, $1.99 for 500ml of a substance your body literally needs to survive might be considered perfectly reasonable.

But in most parts of North America, clean drinking water is readily available.*

If I want a cool, clean 500ml glass of water right now, I can get myself one from my tap. And according to my most recent utility bill, 1 cubic meter of water (which equals 1 million millilitres) from my tap costs $3.03... so a 500 ml glass of water would cost a fifth of a penny. And to be clear, that's a Canadian penny, compared to the $1.99 cited above in US dollars.

If I was feeling fancy (or wanted the convenience of portable water without the hassle of a reusable container) I could drink bottled water. In that case, I could buy a 24-count of Pure Life Natural Spring Water (500ml/bottle) right now at Walmart for $2.97... which means 500ml would cost a whopping 60 times what my tap water would cost: 12 cents. (Again, Canadian.)

But a 500ml can of Liquid Death?

That sells for 21 times the cost of a Pure Life bottle once you include the exchange rate.

And let's be clear: it's not the cost of the aluminum packaging that justifies that multiplier.

It's the brand.

As nicely articulated in this New Yorker article from 2019:

All water is created equal; as long as it’s clean, the body is happy with it. The brain, though, is harder to please—especially given a modicum of disposable income and an abundance of commercial choice. Some people prefer to quench their thirst with only a Southern-chic Mountain Valley Spring Water, in green glass, others with a nouveau-riche cylinder of Voss, or a minimalist baton of Smartwater, or the outfit-matching aerodynamism of a refillable stainless-steel S’well bottle. There’s water for athletes—with nipple-like caps, for squirtable hydration—and water for kids, in roly-poly little bottles. On the inside, they all contain a triatomic compound of two hydrogens and an oxygen, in liquid form, odorless, colorless, essentially flavorless: one substance, key to life, with packaging options for all.

Purists may try to argue the taste of water from Fiji really is different from the taste of water from the Swiss Alps, which is really, really different from fresh Canadian spring water.

I'll concede this may be true at some level, but wholly reject the idea that the majority of pallets could tell the difference. And the science backs me up on this.

Liquid Death can command a sky-high price-per-ml premium because of its brand.

Heck, in its latest campaign, Liquid Death even acknowledges it's really expensive...

... but it does that while simultaneously showing how it offers significantly better value than the Earth's most expensive beverages. Their taste test is both hilarious and effective.

Any water will hydrate.

But only Liquid Death promises to "murder your thirst."

The next time you question if "brand" is important, ask yourself this:

Would you rather be Liquid Death at $1.99 per can or tap water at 1/5 a penny per glass?


* As an aside, it's unconscionable that I had to write "in most parts of North America" instead of being able to write "everywhere in North America". Clean drinking water should be available to 100% of North Americans, without exception, and making that happen should be an uncompromising and immediate goal of our governments.

1 Comment

I agree that all distilled waters are the same. Here in Poland there is a wide variety of spring waters, with varying degrees of mineralization. You can definitely tell the difference with some of these. For myself (and my daughter), the key element is that it be icy cold!


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