Brand Strategy

Liquid Death becomes her for e.l.f. Cosmetics Corpse Paint campaign

By embracing an entertainment-forward marketing strategy, the brand is releasing content that doesn’t feel like traditional marketing.
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Liquid Death

· 4 min read

The video begins with two girls lying on a bed, gawking over a magazine picture of a fictional death-metal-inspired character named “Glothar.” And then, in a stroke of the supernatural, Glothar jumps out of the magazine and into the room, where he helps the girls decorate their faces with “Corpse Paint.”

It ends with an absurdist twist: The mother of one of the girls enters the room, bearing a tray of “vegan ghost blood.” She stops at the sight of Glothar. “I haven’t seen you in, like, 15 years,” she says. The camera pans to her daughter, decked out in black-and-white face paint. “Mom,” she says, over sentimental music. She then turns to Glothar. “Dad?”

The 55-second ad, which has been viewed more than 50,000 times on YouTube since its March 26 release, is the latest piece of zany content produced by Liquid Death, a canned-water company that takes a different approach to marketing.

The company’s marketing team considers Liquid Death to be an entertainment brand first, one that also sells consumer packaged goods.

“Ninety-nine percent of human beings don’t want to actually be marketed to. Usually marketing is interrupting your day,” Andy Pearson, Liquid Death’s VP of creative, said. “The premise of Liquid Death is really, can we literally become the most fun, hilarious brand on the planet? ”

Funny, not preachy

Liquid Death began promoting its brand in 2017 with $2,000 worth of Facebook ads, but didn’t actually form until 2018 or start selling cans until January 2019. Its singularly unserious brand voice resonated, and soon, that translated to customers. In March, the company was valued at $1.4 billion.

Part of the appeal, Pearson believes, is the novelty of water sold in a metal can rather than a plastic bottle. “Death to plastic” is one of Liquid Death’s slogans, but, he said, the company is careful in how it presents its environmental mission.

“Liquid Death is not preachy,” Dan Murphy, SVP of marketing at Liquid Death, said. “We’re not necessarily beating you over the head, shaming you if you ever touch a piece of plastic. We’re just giving you this fun alternative for it.”

That ethos is evident through its recent collaboration with e.l.f. on the limited-edition Corpse Paint. The ad itself had accumulated 6.8 billion earned media impressions by the morning of April 5, according to stats provided by the company, and in addition to the video spot, the brands partnered with influencers who posted videos of themselves applying Corpse Paint to their faces and drinking Liquid Death. (Liquid Death declined to share its budget for the project, which was produced by Death Machine, its in-house production arm.)

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Julia Fox, the influencer turned actress, was photographed walking her dog in New York City while wearing Corpse Paint, and posted a picture of herself wearing the makeup on Instagram.

The goal, Murphy said, was to flood social media with the makeup looks to drive awareness. “A lot of people who follow that makeup world were on their feed that day, and they got one [post], and that was weird,” Murphy said of the influencer videos. “And then 10 minutes later, they got another, and now this is starting to get super bizarre. And then they got a third and it’s this alternate reality of almost using somebody’s feed as a channel for this kind of marketing,” Murphy said. 

“Almost a bizarre art piece,” Pearson added.

A brand of the moment

Pre-social media, Liquid Death probably wouldn’t have worked, Murphy and Pearson agreed, since so much of the brand’s strategy hinges on its content going viral. That’s its strength: Liquid Death’s marketing team understands the rhythms of the news cycle, Pearson said.

“Our stuff is meant to live for a day, give you a laugh, and then you can go on with your life, and you don’t need to hear from us again,” Pearson said. “It’s a totally different approach from that big, integrated, 360-campaign that’s going to last two-to-six months with all this pressure to really perform. Versus us, we’re going to take all that money that would’ve been spent on media, spent on these huge heavy productions, and we take it and we can just make more stuff faster and give you more entertainment over time.”

Liquid Death uses what Murphy described as proprietary algorithms to help evaluate the success of its content on social media, analyzing the quality and content of comments, the number of shares to friends, saves for rewatch and more. And it also relies on something simpler.

Before anything is released, the team asks itself two questions. “Did it make us laugh?” Murphy said. “Is it something we would share?”

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