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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Liquid Death's Genius Creative Idea and Smartwater's Dumb Response

Liquid Death Mountain Water had a truly fantastic idea for this year's Super Bowl.

Rather than pay millions of dollars to run television advertisements during the big game, they'd instead allow somebody ELSE to spend a fraction of that money for what they're calling the BIGGEST AD EVER: an advertisement on packages of Liquid Death water.

And why would such an ad be bigger than a Super Bowl commercial?

Well, because of math: as the cheeky video that's included in the promotional video points out, 110 million people are expected to watch this year's Super Bowl... but over 200 million people walk through the aisles of Liquid Death's grocery retailers "each and every week." Why pay $7 million for 30 seconds of air-time during the Super Bowl when you could pay a fraction of that amount and reach twice as many people before and after the game?

As of this writing, the top bid is $222,322.22, but it could be more by the time you read this.

(UPDATE: The winning bid at the end of the auction was $355,500 USD.)

Pure genius, right?

Screenshot of Liquid Death Super Bowl Packaging offer no eBay

Now here's where things get a lot less smart...

Packaged water competitor smartwater decided they should try to hijack Liquid Death's genius creative effort and place a digital advertisement on Liquid Death's eBay listing.

A senior Coca-Cola marketer (who I'll spare the embarrassment of naming here) decided to post this on LinkedIn, and you can see the smartwater ad in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of LinkedIn Post by smartwater executive.

smartwater, I don't fault you for trying to blunt a competitor's creative efforts (especially one that consistently puts out better creative than you do) and get some earned media of your own (it's difficult to miss the #adweek and #adage hashtags), but let me list three reasons why this particular execution was anything but smart.

1. Your copy is terrible.

"enough with all the death talk... crack open something smart"

I know this was a short-notice execution, but was that the best your agencies could do?

I expect much better from a brand called smartwater. Something witty and playful would have fit well. But "Enough with the death talk already?" That's just whiney and sad.

2. You come across as a bully.

Big kids are never cool when they pick on little kids... they're cool when they pick on bullies.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi can go after one another to each of their liquid hearts' content because they're both (really) big kids when it comes to sales and market share.

But when smartwater, a brand owned by beverage behemoth Coca-Cola, tries to belittle upstart water company Liquid Death? It can only be seen as petty and stupid.

This is made worse by the fact that Liquid Death's reason for being is to eliminate society's use of plastic bottles by selling us water in easier-to-recycle aluminum cans... so smartwater is using its size and spending power to bully a company trying to help our planet. Ouch.

3. You come across as a sore loser.

Liquid Death had a brilliantly creative idea. And instead of just admitting defeat and vowing to do better next year, they decided to give us "enough with all the death talk".

What should they have done?

Be a gracious loser. Imagine that, instead of "enough with all the death talk", smartwater decided to run an ad on that eBay page that read, "This is smart. We approve."

That would have been a classy admission of defeat in a brand-appropriate way.

I hated smartwater's response to Liquid Death's creative idea, but I loved Mike Cessario's response. Mike is the CEO and Co-Founder of Liquid Death, and here's how he replied to that LinkedIn post:

Screenshot of LinkedIn post by Liquid Death CEO

Fine, Mike's response is a little bit snarky if you read between the lines; that "as a 4x award-winning marketer" line, picked up from the original poster's LinkedIn headline, was most certainly a dig.

With his two-paragraph response, Mike confirms smartwater would be allowed to win the bid and advertise on Liquid Death's packages if they decided to do that, reinforces the strength of the creative idea with hard numbers, and subtly belittles smartwater's effort to hijack the idea. ("... better than running a banner ad... with very low traffic that is mostly marketing executives.")

Could smartwater recover from this unforced error?

Absolutely. How?

They should win that eBay bid.

Bid an amount another company would be unlikely to top ($1 million?), then either run a "That was smart" message on the package (for the reasons I outlined above) or offer the ad space to one of the company's many national foodservice customers as an act of goodwill... in exchange for an in-store promotion and the purchase of additional cases of smartwater to support it. After all, creative ads are even best when they succeed in driving sales.

That would be a smart move befitting a brand with "smart" in its name, don't you think?


P.S. Longtime readers may have expected this post to be a roundup of my favourite Super Bowl advertisements from this year, similar to past posts I've made leading up to and following the big game. To those hoping for this: I'm sorry to disappoint you. The truth is a) I've had a busy few weeks and putting those "round up" posts together involves a lot of time and energy, and b) this year many advertisers decided, for whatever reason, not to release their ads online before the game as they have in previous years, making a summary write-up more challenging. If you do want to watch this year's Super Bowl ads, YouTube does a good job of collecting them on their AdBlitz page.


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