[Podcast] Rebellious Branding with Stix of Liquid Death

[Podcast] Rebellious Branding with Stix of Liquid Death

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Are you thirsty for some killer marketing strategies? Then grab a glass of Liquid Death Mountain Water and tune in to the latest episode of the JUST Branding Podcast!

Hosts Matt & Jacob sit down with Steve Nilson, AKA Stix, the ‘Vice of President of Cult Indoctrination’ at Liquid Death, to dive into the innovative thinking behind one of the most successful up-and-coming consumer brands.

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Stix and his team have made waves in the industry by breaking all the rules and creating a refreshing new approach to selling water.

We’ll explore the brand’s clear purpose and positioning, which not only hydrates but also has shaken up the entire water category.

Stix’s philosophy of authentic brand building is the perfect recipe for success, relying on radical creativity and genuine endorsements to quench the thirst of consumers worldwide.

But we’ll also take a gulp of Stix’s risk assessment approach to ensure that creativity never goes overboard, while still considering the brand’s potential for global expansion.

If you’re looking to make a splash in your industry and disrupt the market, this episode is a must-listen.

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Don’t let it slip through your fingers like water through a sieve – tune in now to discover the phenomenal brand power of Liquid Death!

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, folks. Welcome to the latest episode of JUST Branding. We have a very, very special guest on the show, Steve Nilson.

Also known as Stix, we’ll ask him why he’s called Stix in a minute. But Steve is an amazing head of brand, or as he’s known as the vice president of cult indoctrination for the brand Liquid Death. We’re going to get into that in a minute.

It sounds ominous. If you’ve not heard of what Liquid Death are doing, you will be amazed. It will blow you away.

But one thing that I think is absolutely incredible is the amazing success this brand has had in terms of getting its reach out there of getting funding and investment and really kind of blowing the socks off of the conventional. So we’re going to get into that as we talk about rebellion and breaking all the rules. Stix, welcome to the show.

Well, thank you for having me. Really appreciate it.

First question, Stix, tell us about you, what you do, how you came to do it, and also why you called Stix and not Steve.

You know what, it’s actually goes to my first real job. I was a snowboard boot developer, and so I’d spent three weeks in Asia building boots, and it was so hot in these factories. I’m over six feet tall, and I would walk around the factory wearing snowboard boots and shorts.

I look like Jimi Cricket, skinny legs, and my boss was flustered one day. Anyway, he just said, how do you balance those effing sticks making fun of my legs? By the time I got back to the United States, all of my counterparts were writing sticks, S-T-I-X, they spelled it that way, not me.

It stuck with me. That was like 26 years ago, something like that, and it stuck with me ever since. It really was from really wearing snowboard boots in Thailand in the factory.

But fast forward from that, I was one of the first sports marketing managers at Red Bull when I first came to the US about 20 years ago. Because one of my athletes at the snowboard company was one of the athletes for Red Bull. Then from there, I went to a beer brand, a resuscitated beer brand called Pabst Blue Ribbon, which was at one point the biggest beer in America, not anywhere from the 1800s.

It just had died, but it was a leap of faith leading Red Bull to go to Pabst, but we resuscitated this brand with an amazing group that I worked with. We brought this thing from the ashes basically and created it as a lifestyle brand. It was bigger than the liquid, it was but the can.

Then through snowboarding and skateboarding, I was connected with Mike Cesario, my boss, the brainchild, really the reason why we exist. For Liquid Death, he and I talked and literally we were introduced via friend. I was on a snowcat, like, oh, you got to meet this guy.

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He’s starting his brand. That was 2019 and I was employee number six. Mike had appreciated what I’d done not only when I had money at Red Bull and when I had no money at Pabst, what you can do with a brand.

And so such as I’ve got water, there’s no excuse because I should be able to get this water in everyone’s hands. And so it’s quite a colossal task. But here I am.

Right. But it is all about brand building. Like it’s all, it’s essentially what I do.

But cult and indoctrination, that means basically it’s got crack dealing for samples free. If I could summarize what I do, I credibly integrate brands in the scenes that other brands try to pay their way in. That’s the best way to describe it.

Like all these elaborate campaigns, they want to see this in ROI. What I do is like, you got to give me time, but it will credibly be integrated and people will discover the brand and go, oh my god, it was right place, right time. But I’m not going to pay to do it.

I don’t pay any athletes. I don’t sit around and write checks for sponsorships. Events need water.

People need water. That’s how we’re working this. But it’s a win-win.

So that’s in a nutshell where you just asked me how I got to where I am.

So that’s awesome. What a great nutshell. And I know it’s a challenge, but you seem to be doing a great job.

And I love the product placement that just happened. If you’re watching on video, Stix just had a swig of Liquid Death. Let’s talk about Liquid Death.

Let’s talk about Liquid Death just briefly for those people that don’t know what the brand is all about. Would you like to just, in your own words, tell us about the concept, the big idea behind the brand?

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Well, the big idea, and this again, I give Mike, he had the foresight on this. Mike is an ex-creative, and again, to make a long story short, he was getting so frustrated working on these big accounts, everything from Netflix to Nike, whatever, and he had these amazingly funny ideas. And the companies always pick the safest one.

And that just drove him crazy. And his whole thing is, why is it that Doritos, energy drinks, candy, every beer has the most fun, but they’re the worst for you? Why is that?

Why is it so? And Mike’s thing is like, sustainability is important. And he always says this, we got to make sustainability and hydration 50 times more fun.

And I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t realize, and this applies to everyone listening here, the plastic problem we have on this earth. It’s bad. I knew it was bad, but now that I’ve dug into it, because two of our three charitable partners, which we donate to every single month, a portion of our profits, clean up the ocean of plastic.

So we’re putting our money where our mouth is. And Mike, think about that. He’s like, what is the dumbest thing I can think of?

It’s Liquid Death. Literally, that’s from his mouth. What’s the dumbest thing I think of?

But also bringing attention to this plastic problem. And people don’t drink enough water. They don’t.

No one hydrates enough anymore. There’s so many choices when you go to the store. Let’s make hydration, let’s make water, drinking water cool.

You know, that’s essentially the best way to dumb it down.

So I think we skipped over the core element here, right? We didn’t actually introduce what Liquid Death is. It’s a canned water beverage that looks like a beer, more or less, for people who hadn’t heard of it.

Would you describe it any other way, Steve?

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. You know, canned water.

It’s only a recyclable can, but here’s what differentiates us. People are going to start canning their water and that’s really cool. But we actually found a spring in Austria.

It’s one of the few in the world that go from the ground into a canning facility. It’s that pure. So we put the water purity test on our website.

So we’re putting our money where our mouth is on this. It’s really a higher end product. You think about it because in the United States, you can get a shrink wrap 30 pack of Crankly bottles for a couple of bucks, but it’s tap water and you’re going to pick up the caps and it’s horrible for the environment.

Meanwhile, we have legit like mountain spring water and that sometimes takes people back like, what? I got to pay $2 for a can of water? You know what?

I ran into the same thing at Red Bull 20 years ago. All I had was a can. Walking out with one product, that was it.

There was no flavors, there was nothing. People are like, how dare you sell a can for $2? Who’s going to ever buy that?

I don’t know. Last I checked, Red Bull is doing pretty well. Now, I’m not comparing us to Red Bull, we love to have the growth that they have, absolutely, but we’re water.

Now the energy market is crowded. The water market is billions and billions and billions of dollars, but no one’s really done anything like it. There’s a few brands that try to be a little higher end and try to come off that they’re more sophisticated.

It’s tap water. You know, a lot of this claims it’s tap water. Any of that stuff they’re naming, oh, we’re going to have this and this and this, they’re naming what’s in the water.

It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s not really that different, but we can legitimately stand behind ours. So that is very important.

So it’s legitimate can’t spring water, not just a gimmick, you know?

But I think what you’re describing there is creating something, you mentioned lifestyle, right? And some of your past experience. And what I’ve observed from the outside looking in is that Liquid Death isn’t just water, right?

It’s got an edge. It’s got an attitude. It’s a lifestyle that people are buying into in their thousands, right?

And so tell us a little bit about behind the scenes. I know you were saying that you want to do something with the category. You want to kind of change things up.

But what’s the sort of strategic thinking behind building this brand? As Jacob says, it looks a little bit like, you know, the typeface is kind of like, like a very kind of gothic and there’s some crazy, crazy stuff going on when I look at the website and your video stuff and your campaigns, which I love. But tell us in a nutshell what you’re trying to do there.

Honestly, it’s an usual thing where why are these companies that aren’t healthy for you having so much fun? Like we want to have fun too. We’re all about laughing.

Like we don’t use an agency of note. We don’t have because we’re frankly, I’m amazed at the creatives in our company, like the people we have and we sit around and it’s a tough group because you think you have a great idea and it just gets shot down. But it’s like, okay, what’s something we can do without?

We’re never going to offend anybody. We’re never going to do something. Take us way too seriously with the violence, the death piece.

Relax. It’s death to plastic, murder or thirst. That’s it.

That’s right there, right? Death to plastic. Now, I don’t know if you all call it this, but they’re with the big soda companies.

We did a campaign called Finding Loving Homes with Plastic where we supply, we got these prepaid postage and if you find a water bottle, a plastic bottle from one of those two companies, it gets shipped right back to their mail room. We found out that the US Postal Service, you can literally put a stamp on a coconut and they will send it. You can put it on anything.

We got prepaid labels. My point is, hey man, your stuff’s ending up here. You can have it back.

Here you go. Take it. But at the end of the day, to answer your question, it’s like, let’s have fun.

Again, make sustainability, make wearing your thirst 50 times more cool. That’s it. We’re just trying to like, you have this in your hand.

It’s more than just water. It’s like an accessory. It’s like a badge of honor.

Like you’re part of this, you’re part of kind of a cult, you know? You’re like, wow, like I don’t believe in what’s going on here. I believe in what you’re doing.

Everyone wants to belong, right? So it’s like, it’s water. Like, hey, you hydrate too?

That’s right. You hydrate. Oh, wow.

And you’re not going to get a plastic. You’re one of us. Cool.

Hang on for the ride. So that’s it.

I was recently in Costa Rica and the plastic on the beaches was tragic. Absolutely tragic, man. It really was an eye opener.

If you’ve not hit a beach and seen it, like when you see it, you suddenly realize what we’re doing to the oceans, right? It’s appalling. Absolutely appalling.

So it’s great that you stood on that and ride in that wave as well, I guess, and having fun along the way. So amazing. So kudos to you and Michael and the founders for everything that you’re doing there.

So thank you so much. So let me kind of change gear a little bit. So you’ve had incredible success, right?

So you must, you’re having more fun than everybody else, right? But how are you doing this? Like, how are you getting the message out there?

You mentioned you’re not paying big agencies or anything like that. What tends to be the sort of the tactics used?

Very good question. One of the reasons why it worked for me here and why it worked for me at Paps is the guys that managed me. And in this case, it was Mike.

And ironically, my old boss from Paps Perugon is now running Monster Energy. Go figure, right? He’s the CMO.

Great guy, dear friend. What I’m getting at is they leave me alone. Probably can’t tell, but I need to be left alone.

What I said to you originally in the conversation, it comes down to credible integration. So my team that Mike has let me assemble is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And I am happy to share with everyone because good luck trying to do the same thing.

But I literally took a totally different approach where I’ve hired people. Some had never even opened a Google Doc before I hired them, but they’re professionals at something else. So I have an adult film actress.

I’ve got a bass player for Ozzy Osbourne, I’ve got a pro skateboarder, I’ve got a hip hop tour manager. I’ve got Lead Center H2O, the punk band. All of them are using their networks to get the word on Liquid Death.

They’re all connected. The movie stars, all celebrities, all connected to the cool skate shop, tattoo parlor, record store. That’s it.

That’s it. Getting incredibly out there, hands in hands. My number one focus, hands in hands.

Don’t come at me with a big fancy deck. I’m not going to look at it because you’re going to say, here’s a banner, here’s a social media tag. I don’t care.

You can’t use my logo. I’m not going to sponsor an athlete. I’m never going to paint a helmet.

I’m never going to paint a car because I don’t have to. Because I know that I just, why would I sponsor one person who could get in trouble? All I need is someone who got the DWI or assaulted someone.

How would I do that? So I’ve already been there, done that at Red Bull. I had plenty of athletes, had a wonderful run there.

I love Red Bull, but they took a different approach. They’ve had to buy their way into things. They still are.

I love Red Bull, but they still haven’t figured out skateboarding after all these years. Perhaps, I gave up product to the skaters and we walked away. That was it.

Never told them what to do. Never gave them a hat, never gave them a banner, nothing. And then they’re just like, whoa, nothing’s being shoved down my throat.

Funny how that works, right? Because as soon as people are like sold something, I mean, I don’t care what level of education you are, you’re going to know if you’re being sold something. And nobody likes to feel like they’re being sold something.

And that’s not what I’m trying to put. I’m trying to sell you here as a lifestyle. Like you got this can in your hand.

It’s like, wow, I’m part of the group. I mean, Metallica is an investor. James, the lead singer, loves us.

He doesn’t drink, you know, but yeah, you can walk on stage with thousands of people. We’re doing a world tour, by the way. He’s got the can in his hand.

It’s like there’s something to be said versus a glass of the lime in a straw, right? Nothing wrong with that. Straws suck.

But like, you know what I mean? Like you’re just trying to build that. And that’s how we’re doing it.

That’s what differentiates us. I’ve got this amazing group, which Mike trusted me. And I didn’t know some of them.

But think about it. They get equity. They get dental.

They get vision. They get health. They get a salary.

But yet I still want them to go on tour. I still want any one of them is touring right now. Where the hell is he?

One’s in Australia right now. Whatever. Ironically.

Yeah, exactly. He just came back to the US. But my point is, having this team where the sun never sets on their on their RolabXs is what it comes down to.

You know, it’s getting the word up. It’s so many companies. Got to scale it.

Got to show ROI. You got to do it. It’s like, relax.

Like, it’s going to work if you let it do it right. Like, if you’re not going to let us give us a chance, then screw you. I’ve seen it in beer.

I’ve seen it in energy drinks where Coca-Cola tried to do an energy drink. Fails miserably. Miserably.

I saw other big beer brands try to take on past. Failed miserably. Because they never gave it time.

Ever. And so that’s one thing that, yes, we want to build this brand fast. But Mike is like, do it and do it the way you’ve done it in the past.

I trust you. And I’ll run things by him. Like, hey, what do you think of this, that, and the other?

But for the most part, he’s like, you’ve done this before, go. And it’s trust. A lot of it comes down to trust, you know, and that’s really important.

So it’s, it sounds elementary, but you’d be amazed in business. Everyone talks like they’re going to help you. Like they got you back and we’re going to support you.

And then they, you’re not delivering what they want as fast as you want. And all of a sudden you’re the, you’re the goat, you know, and that doesn’t work over here.

Just Steve, I have a question. You mentioned no one’s going to be able to do what you did. You know, how are you tapping into these?

I don’t, I don’t want to say influencers, but these influential people that have, you know, some clout, how are you, how are you getting into them?

Friendships. And let me give you an example. Okay.

The guy was saying, he actually just, it’s funny. His name goes by Glasgow. He’s a bass player for Ozzy.

He was the bass player for Rob Zombie. He’s been the bass player for Zach Sabbath. He’s been the bass player for Prong.

He’s retired because Ozzy just retired because you can’t get any higher than that. Right. And he just said to me that he gets with Stix, I may have retired from rock and roll, but I’m not retired from chicken ass.

And that’s, I’m going to put that on a, that’s literally what he said. But the reason I’m telling you this is that when I was at Airwalk, that was the brand that I did the boots with. I grew up in Minneapolis, so I grew up on punk rock.

There was a six bus that would take me to my parents’ house in front of First Avenue. So I could see Black Flag, the Descendants, name it. They played Minneapolis, right?

And I just grew up on punk rock and metal. Fast forward, I’m at Airwalk. I’m like, God, we should really get in shoes on these bands.

This is in the 90s. Nobody had done quote unquote product placement. So I traveled on Warped Tour, I traveled on OzFest and I got to know all these bands.

And some of them, ironic part is, a lot of these guys are sober now. So I circled back. I used to give Blasco shoes and news and Rob Zombie.

Now he’s on my marketing team. Fat Mike from NoFX, he is now an investor. So we’ve got this small world.

And again, I’m a mentor for the Lead School of Business at the University of Colorado. And I teach these students, I’m like, just be cool. It’s so much harder to be a d*** than being really cool.

Like, just be nice. That’s it. It’s not hard, you know, and deliver.

So, you know, do we say you’re going to do? But to answer your question, I’m literally going and I’m literally, Jacob, having people say that to me, and it comes down to my friendships. And it’s like following up with them.

Are their friends not name dropping? Not saying I know that guy. Like, no, do you legitimately know that person?

Like, that’s what it comes down to. But a lot of it is is lip service. And the world is tired of that.

There’s a lot of people talk a big game and they go deliver. It does come down to delivery. And that’s why we’re into the gun.

Now we’re in all these retailers and they’re like, you better deliver, because in retail you lose that real estate, you don’t get it back. It’s all about velocity. How fast does that move off the shelf?

If you lose it, someone else is just going to be there waiting. So with the success, I appreciate your acknowledging that comes the pressure of, okay, how are we going to keep this going? So it’s never every day.

It’s like, how do we keep this machine going?

But Steve, what I’m hearing there is the… What you’re talking about is a strategy centered around authenticity, right? On a number of levels, like not just…

That word can be banded around quite heavily, can’t it? But, you know, going right to the core of what the person actually believes in, in other words, death to plastic, right? Right up to the relationships you’re building and the fact that you’re not telling them to put product in hand as they go out on stage, that is up to them and you’re kind of leaving them to it.

All of that is authentic. So what I think you’re building here is something, you know, special in the sense that, you know, it’s doing its own job because the product, the messaging and everything around it is true to what people want. All right?

And I think what that says about other brands, right, potentially, is if you’re having to rely on payments and all that, you know, basically bribing people to do that, I always say to my clients, like, you need to look at the actual experiences you’re creating for your customers, actually the identities that, you know, if you’re having to pay people and it’s kind of fake and it’s a veneer, that world is slowly dying. I know it’s successful right now, it seems. But what you’re doing, what I love about what you’re doing is you’re proving there is a true way around truth, not around just like kind of bribing people and faking it and veneering stuff that’s not real.

What would you say to that?

Yeah, you’re right, but they’re in what you just said, it’s the authentic part of it. A lot of times, there’s so many box checkers out there, where they get a project they’ve got to do, or they’ll go, oh, I got my token, can shot, whatever. Nothing is more disappointing than when I give product to an event, and they panic and realize they never tagged me or never put anything out, and they’ll send me a photo of a can in a cooler.

There’s no context, but that’s laziness. No, I’m providing you a premium product. Help me help you.

If you tell me and you tag at Liquid Death and hashtag MurrayThirst, hashtag, we’ll repost that. We’ve passed all other beverages now. We’re number three in the world.

TikTok, we’re number one. We’re four years old. We’ve passed Pepsi, we’ve passed Coke.

Why is that? Authentic content. The best content we get is really consumer generated.

People love it because they go, wow, now we’re going to be dropping something on Wednesday, which I’m really, really excited about. I can’t talk about right now, which people are going to be like, oh my God. We’ve been working on it for a while, and it’s funny because I’m just excited to see where it goes.

But there are things that we do on our end, obviously. But it’s something we thought about and it’s really tongue in cheek. We’re always laughing at ourselves.

We’re never going to take ourselves too seriously. We take our business very seriously, but how we go about it. I think that, again, back to what you’re saying about authenticity, it’s amazing people talk the game and it’s almost become like the word disruptor.

Or it’s getting overused at this point. So I don’t mean to keep you there, but at the end of the day, that’s what I do is that I’d like to think whatever brand I work with, I’m going to authentically integrate it in a way that like, yeah, wow. Now, at my career, I’d like to think I’d have to be the right product though.

If you said Stix, do it, you did it Liquid Death with a mattress company. Well, I might be able to make it work, but I’d have to think about that long and hard. But then again, one of my employees is an adult actress, so I’m sure she needs tons of mattresses for their shoots.

So there’s always a way. My mind is always going, how can I tap into my network to make this happen? You know what I mean?

So that’s it. But sometimes I saw a lot of people leave Red Bull and get recruited to other brands, and they were way over their skis, and they tried to play the same principles and strategies. We had a Red Bull with a totally different product, and they totally imploded.

I don’t know really any of them that went on to another beverage that really hit the bottom part. They really had a sustainable career because they were brainwashed by the Red Bull thing, which they’ve done an amazing job. I learned a ton there, but you’ve got to be careful because, you know, just like if you’re an ex-Nike person, just because you come into a brand doesn’t mean you’re going to be awesome.

You know, I always look forward to the people that say I was used for my team, which my job’s never hit the job wire. I always handpick people. I never post anything.

I need thermostats. I don’t need thermometers. Thermostats change the temp of the room.

Thermometers take the temp of the room. I need thermostats. I need people who have a hand on the wheel, who can make things happen.

If you’re just sitting there being a cool guy at so-and-so clothing company or for him, I mean, I don’t need you. I got a million of those people. I need people who are going to come to the table with ideas and you’d be amazed.

Like I said, the team, the people I mentioned here, we’ll throw these things out there. You’re like, oh my God, that’s amazing. We’ll go do it.

Don’t ask the planet. Seen the campaign where we literally brought in Sharita Bill, the porn star, and she did a Don’t Ask the Planet. Whole campaign, we have shirts, we have hats, and it was all about sustainability, but it was in a porn set.

Joanna Angel is on my team, directed it. So porn is very taboo, but it’s huge and it’s recession-proof. So it’s something to think about.

Some people don’t want to touch certain topics, we’re not afraid to at all. Because we don’t have to answer to anybody. We don’t answer to a giant, we don’t answer to anyone.

We just move every day and I’m not saying every single thing hits. I’m not saying that at all, but I’d like to say we’ve had more wins than misses in my time here.

I saw a really cool campaign that you guys did.

Was it where you had, it looked like an ordinary guy or a few guys, and he said something on Twitter about the brand and you challenged him to taste different waters, to pick, he said something that is the worst tasting or something like this. So you put a fake test up to see if he could taste your brand because it was supposed to be so terrible and he ranked them. And then I think he didn’t get electric shocks or something if he got it wrong.

And of course, he got it all wrong.

Yeah, we know we get all these haters, which we love when we get haters. I always say that if you got some haters, you’re doing something right with the brand. Because trust me, every brand I’ve been to, I’ve had haters, but not me personally, it’s the brand I’m with.

And basically, we did this taste test where these people were saying your water is the worst ever. We said, fine, we’ll fly you to LA, all expense paid to our office, and we’re going to lay out a bunch of waters, blindfold you. If you pick out, you say this is the worst one and it’s Liquid Death, we’ll pay you a thousand bucks on the spot.

And the people would show up, of course, they got tased, and we got a sign up, and then we got to post it. But these guys, I mean, I’d say, look how successful Jackass has been, right? Like, people want to see that, and we put it on their arm, just so everyone’s aware here, we did Shockman and Knack, it was on their arm, it wasn’t like it.

But on that note, we did another thing called Greatest Hates 1 and 2, which because we have musicians on staff, we did a metal album and a punk album, and all the lyrics were hate comments from social media. So everyone provided, the haters provided all the lyrics, and we made two albums, they’re on Spotify, you can find them. Greatest Hates 1 and 2 are working, maybe going to do another one, not sure, but that was all from the consumers, you know.

Consumers love it, again, you got to empower the people, right? But the fact that some of these people don’t realize, they’re giving us the fodder. Like, you know, they are, if you scroll through our social media, the stuff you’re seeing there from the consumer, that’s from them.

We’re just tagging and saying, hey, whatever, it’s hilarious, we haven’t touched it, we haven’t edited it, but it’s something having to do with Liquid Death, but we certainly didn’t pay them to do whatever it was, it’s goofy.

I did notice that on your website, right? As soon as you get to the homepage, it’s just user generated content, you know, very amateur videos, it’s very real. And I love the time waster 5,000 section.

It just has all your dumb shit and it’s great.

It’s definitely a time waster. I think Mike came up with the name on that one, that it’s fitting because people get sucked into that. That’s a rabbit hole, so to speak, you know, but yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

We really and part of it is to like, you know, it is really fun to this day. We’re still not there yet. You know, to your point, from a distance, we look like a energy drinker of beer, right?

Now, that was on purpose, kind of like this looks like a Guinness, you know, we want it to look like that. So people who don’t drink or Disney drivers, again, it’s almost a placebo effect. They feel a little more of the group.

You got this can in your hand, you know, but the part of the honesty and you guys are both fathers, you understand this, is when I parents say to me, because of you, my child wants to drink water. That is like the best compliment we could ever get, you know, and the kids going to learn about recycling, you know. So we have these kids saying, my parents saying, my kid will not want to have to have one in his lunch bag every day, has to have a liquid death.

I’m like, great, you know, that’s awesome, you know. So, you know, then they feel like they’re doing something naughty. It was kids that snuck into the booth closet, took something out of his water, you know, but they can walk around a party and feel like they’re a little part of the group.

That was on purpose, really, you know, that was just making it look like that. And again, also look like because Mr. Pickles, which is Will Carcilla, did our logo. And it’s what you see on the shelf going, what the heck is that?

So that part of it, too, you’re going to reach, because once, as Mike always says, you get that can in your hand, you’re probably going to buy it. You probably are. You know, once you see it, you realize it’s water and you realize the copy, which Mike did on the side is actually really funny.

It’s like obnoxious, but funny. You know, again, we just stop mocking, having some fun. And I don’t think enough people do that.

I don’t think enough brands that they claim they do, but I don’t think they really do. I can honestly say we do. I was in the office all last week and it’s a gong show in a good way.

There’s just stuff going on everywhere, but never fun way. You know, it’s not even an office. It was like workstations, but it’s like a skate ramp and a pool table.

And, you know, it’s cool.

You’re breaking like all the rules from all the way down and at the heart of that rule breaking is the product, you know, Jacob and I, and I’m sure some people listening have been trained by the famous, well, my mentor, Martysi Noumai, who you might know from Level C. So I know you’ve done some work with them. And, you know, he has this exercise called the Assumption Flip, right, which is where you go, where you have a, you think of a category, you know, I don’t know, in this instance, you’d say water, right?

Like you think of the water category and then you say, you list all the assumptions around what a company selling water might look like, right? So, you know, water bottles and, you know, cleared slightly blue plastic and the bottle top and what all that, you’d list all that down. And then what you do is you flip it, right?

So some of that stuff will be, you know, not useful, but you might flip certain things and you flip so many aspects of what you typically expect from the category and created something so powerful, so on multiple levels, it’s just, it’s mind blowing. So kudos to you, Stix, kudos to you. I had a quick question, though.

So I know there’s a whole bunch of people sat there probably thinking, how on earth does Stix assess risk, right? Because like, there must be some, you know, you can’t, surely the legal people won’t let you just do whatever the heck you want. Like, how does the nuts and bolts actually work when it comes to risk?

Well, it’s a really good question. So this isn’t so much a risk. This is more having to do with brand, but like, and I’ll get back to your original question, but Liquid Death, we’re never going to touch death per se.

Like, we’re never going to touch cult or satan, you know, pentagrams or upside down cross. It’s like, relax. It’s death of plastic, right?

Like, people are taking us. But I’ve actually had some company, I was just going to do some really cool events with a major liquor brand around the Super Bowl. And at the last minute, they said, no, our legal team said we can’t have your product on site.

And of course, I was like, why? They go, because you have death in the name. And I’m like, all right, well, you know what?

Don’t call me again, because I don’t deal with people that you’re going to be feeding people stuff. They could get their car, get a DWI or kill someone. I’m water.

I’m doing you a favor. And I don’t. I’m speaking very pointed right now.

I would never do this. I’m just saying in my head, I’m like, you got to be kidding me. Like, why would I ever want to work with you if you’re going to be that much of a wuss?

You know, like, come on. Like, I’m trying to hydrate people here, you know. But but internally, if there’s something I feel that could come back advice, we do have internal, like we have council.

But that’s more like, you know, I’ll get hit up by people that are professional. You guys have ever seen that where they’ll chug insane amounts of water? I mean, you can die from that.

Like, that’s not cool. Like, we don’t want, you know what I mean? You don’t want the competitive drinkers, like, not going to touch them.

Yeah. So there’s stuff they definitely want it. But, you know, look what’s happened.

Speaking for the States, you know, with some of these festivals, you know, all of a sudden some go sideways and everyone’s very litigious in this country, unfortunately. And then they want to sponsor everyone that’s associated with the event. So there’s definitely like calculated, we’re calculated in looking at this.

But for the most part, I’ve been doing this long enough that I can assess as something I really think is going to could be really detrimental to the brand. But you brought up a good point. I think everyone does need to think that it’s one thing to break the rules.

But it’s another thing to get to the point where you’re really going to get yourself in some legal trouble. Or, God forbid, someone is affected by your product for whatever reason that is, you know? I mean, you’ve heard about kids slugging down a bunch of energy drinks and having a heart attack, or whatever it is, these horrible stories.

I mean, no one condones that. There’d be no one at any of those brands that would condone that. But you got to be careful.

This is what day and age and society, you know. Unfortunately, you do have to watch your P’s and your Q’s because people are always looking for the fine print, are looking for some way to backdoor or whatever. And again, we’ve had some haters on things, but usually we just have a lot of fun with them.

And again, never in a condescending, mean way. But it’s like, boy, if you’re going to come at us, we used to fight, it’s too big now, but over responding on Instagram, just fun, like undressing people. Because we just have really funny people internally.

We were like, Mike, let me respond to this one. And we’ll do it. But it’s really like making them look like silly.

So we don’t have a bot doing it. We don’t have some call center doing it. It is answered by internal employees.

Like they were like, just we’ll respond. And I mean, one of the guys we have, Brendan Kelly, he’s the lead singer of the band Lawrence Arms. He does our copy.

It’s hilarious. He did stuff for the Onion before and he’s hilarious. And so you see some of the stuff, whether it’s a merch launch or some of the stuff on our website, Brendan probably hadn’t had it.

It’s really funny tongue in cheek and we’ll make you feel silly if you come after us, you know, that’s all. But in a fun way, we’re always going to be fun about it. We’re never going to be condescending or mean, you know, ever.

So it sounds like you’ve got some very clear views and rules in your mind, if you like, on what will fly and what will not fly. As you’ve scaled and grown, which I know you’ve done exponentially, and I know you’re probably, you know, are you international now? I imagine you are.


So that’s going to, I imagine, give unique challenges, right, as all scaling does. Growth comes with its own challenges. How are you going to kind of keep tabs on what’s going on in the other countries and across the other teams that I imagine you’re going to have to sort of set up?

Have you thought about that yet? Have you got plans?

Well, I actually just hired a Eurostix, we’re calling him. Yeah, yeah, Europe. Basically, he’s already worked together kind of a team that I have, but for over there.

So yeah, it’s happening. I mean, we’ve got some things to do and, you know, we’re, the nice thing is, you know, our products can in Austria. So, you know, we already are there technically, but now it’s a matter of, now we’re tasked, not just me, but on the distribution side of it, sales side of it, we have a live nation of partnerships.

So my counterpart, everyone handles partnerships and we will, in sponsorships, be working directly with them because of the Metallica tour. They’re going to be bringing us along, which is great, which is nice right out of the gate. We’ve got our logo on everything.

It’s funny because we don’t usually do that. So people say, well, how come so-and-so Wiz Khalifa got to rap his bus? You know, Wiz did it on his own dollar and is an investor.

Metallica is an investor. They said, hey, we’ll just put your logo. We love your water.

We’ll just put it on the thing. Oh my God, Metallica is putting our logo on. So of course, you’re going to say yes to that.

But to answer your question, we are in the process right now of shoring up the troops, so to speak. But we’re not changing. Yes, every national or every nation, we have a different thing, whatever.

We want to be very cognizant of that, but we’re not going to change who we are as a brand. We’re not, again, zero f**ks. Like we’re just going to do the way we do it.

And yes, there may be some language barriers and things we’ve got to work on. And there’s going to be some verbiage change on the can and things we have to do for country rules. And that’s fine.

We have people who are going to handle that. But as far as me and lifestyle marketing, I’m not changing my strategy at all. We’re going to find the cool kids.

You know, that’s it. Like whoever they are. And I already, through snowboarding and skateboarding and punk rock and through brands, I’ve already got people waiting in Paris and we’re almost going, when can we get a product here?

We’re going to parties. We’re going to do this and that. Soon as we get a product, you’re going to have it in your hand.

And that’s how we’re starting.

That is awesome. And by the way, if you want product in two brand strategist hands, you know where Jacob and I are. So there we are, that’s just a thought.

But the thing I was going to ask was, are you thinking of codifying at all anything? Just because one of the things that I tend to do strategically with clients as they scale, is try and bring alignment, right? Because otherwise what could happen is, and I’ve seen this loads and I’m sure Jacob has as well, things splinter, right?

So it’s hard to keep control when you don’t really want to control it. So what I’m observing is quite a wild approach, testing and learning and it’s quite agile and fun. But what if the person in Venezuela decides to do something completely off-brand?

You’ll have to pull them back round and have a word and then codifying it might be a challenge. Have you thought that through? Have you got documentation and principles or are you hoping just to recruit the right people and it happen organically?

I think both. I actually have a lifestyle marketing deck that I’m very proud of and I don’t like decks. I mean, to me, PowerPoint is a necessary evil.

A lot of times it also hides weaknesses. I think it’s people putting out this fancy deck. Likewise jokes, ad agencies are basically fancy deckmakers is what they are.

Like a lot of it’s like all sizzle, no stake, if the same goes. In my case, I’ve really refined what I do and what I bring to a brand. So I have the pillars that we go after, how we’re going to go after it, and I get the right people to do it.

But also pushing my team. I mean, case in point, one of the guys in my marketing is Chris Cole, two-time thrasher, skater of the year. Do I expect this to be in skateboarding?

Of course. That’s how I brought him in. He’s way into woodworking.

People don’t raise that. He’s dealing with all the veterans, like military, stuff. He’s working with police, fire and first responders.

I expect this to be in skateboarding, but I’m making them get outside their comfort zone. But with that, they’re very inquisitive. They’re very detailed in it.

They want to learn more about it. So I have to do this. My job is to onboard people that will be bringing aboard and saying, no, this is how it works.

I don’t need to run around because what’s going to happen is, and I’ve gotten so many inquiries from Europe, everybody wants to slap the logo on everything. They just instantly want to, and that’s flattering. And that’s so great.

And that’s brand equity right there. But that’s like sending the wrong message. It’s saying that, oh, Liquid Death is buying everything now.

They’re sponsoring everything. No, we’re not. No, that’s why you can’t touch the logo.

That’s why I still have the product developer in me where I did 80 snowboards with Capital Snowboards a couple of years ago. You couldn’t buy them. You just had to know someone.

We gave them to the top shops. They had the cleanest distribution. Whole point was drive kids to go to these independent stores.

If they demoed the board, they got a case of Liquid Death and they had a poster about it. It’s a win-win-win all around. We’re getting some brand awareness.

They’re sending people to these little independent shops. They’re struggling, especially during pandemic. You know what I mean?

It’s a win-win-win. Nobody can get their hands on it. And I said, you can keep the board.

Auction it off. Give it to your best employee. I don’t care.

But everyone’s like, when do I get the board? How do I get the board? You can’t, you know.

So I need to wherever we go to Europe. Like, OK, now we’re not going to be sponsoring Tour de France. We’re not going to be doing something with Salzburg for a ski race.

No, we’re not. We have water there. But I don’t want logos everywhere for that very reason.

Again, so it is up to me to make sure that I’m onboarding my team, speaking what I do correctly. And you’re probably going to have a few loose cannons. And yes, we’re going to have to reel them in, because people will be so anxious to have this brand in their hand that they’ll probably make dumb decisions.

You know, it’s like someone winning a lottery all of a sudden. They start blowing their money and they don’t keep track of it at all. And all of a sudden, they’re in a hole.

And we know we’ve got to avoid that, you know, really. So it’s going to be a little bit of both. It’s education.

And then it’s basically making sure that we have regular check ins, like where you’re at, because we don’t want them ruining the brand, especially in Ferdinand territory overnight because of their own wants and thinking that they know everything about branding. And they don’t, especially how we grew this thing, you know. So that’s all.

That’s what I have to do, you know, really.

You’ve got this. You’ve got this, Stix. It’ll be great, I’m sure.

So we sort of I’m going to start thinking about, well, I don’t know if Jacob’s got any questions, but I kind of wanted to ask kind of really, you know, some some advice for the rest of us, for brand builders out there, right? So we’re looking at you, Stix. You’re doing all the stuff.

You’re doing a great job breaking all the rules. So it’s kind of a double question kind of rolled into one, which is, first of all, you know, what are your personal sort of rules for rule breaking, right? And what advice would you then give to others seeking to carve, carve their own way, I guess, in the categories that they’re playing in?

Well, you’ve got to, it comes down to identifying an unmet demand, right? And then on top of that, you have to have the right product. It’s got to, the product does have to stand on its own because smoke and mirrors only last so long, right?

Trust me, there’s going to be copycats of Liquid Death. They’re going to can water whatever else, but it’s not going to be the full package. It’s like, we just want a quick profit.

We’re going to turn this. You’re not going to think about what all has gone into this. This is a lot of thought going into this brand.

I mean, Mike, technically, it’s 2017 if you really want to get technical on the brand, right? It’s just the idea, the process, how it’s going to be. But be a good listener, right?

Listen to your consumer, listen to the distributors, listen to the retailers. People don’t do that. They’re like, how are we going to get more trust base?

And it’s like, build those relationships. That art is lost, especially now with phones. It was so refreshing.

I was just at an event on Friday night in Aspen, Colorado, and Jack White played this little tiny venue, a few hundred people. But you had to put your phone in one of those lock bags because they didn’t want anyone recording anything. And it was, I don’t remember the last time it was there, everybody had their head up and they were all talking.

And they were all looking at each other in the eye. And that’s gone now. And it’s like, start for the basics.

It’s like, just be a good person. Go there and be like, you know what? Here’s our product.

This is what it looks like. But you have to think it through. We’re feeling a need here.

Not that the water industry needed another brand, but really no one had done anything in the water business at all. So you’re taking the healthiest thing you can consume and making it cool. So yeah, you’ve got to go out and do things that these big brands won’t.

And that’s the thing. The big soda brands, big food brands, they wouldn’t dare go near any of that. There’s no way they would do a taste test or they would do don’t have to plan it or do the finding loving homes for plastic.

So that stuff, when you’re managing risk, when you really think, what is the big risk there? So someone does not into porn, most people are. So like you can say, they go, wow, you can’t hate on us for the idea.

Now you may not agree with pornography, and that’s fine. The adult industry, I’m sorry. But really, the big thing is the world doesn’t need another energy drink, let’s say.

What makes you different than Red Bull? Look how many have come and gone, and it’s just Red Bull Monster and Rockstar, really, in the US. I guess there’s another brand, Bang, or whatever.

They need some noise. But no one is really doing anything out of the box. Everyone is trying to copy what Red Bull have done.

Red Bull really hung their hat on action sports and motorsports and all that stuff. But yeah, a lot is going to come down to that you’re really going to have to have a good group of advisors. You’ve got to surround yourself with just a really good group of people that understand the business you’re getting into.

Because there is that. They forget with all this, with all the marketing. You’re spending money.

You have a burn rate. That’s pretty great if you’re going to do some amazing content. Now, some of it, as we talked about, is consumer generated.

But these ideas cost money, man. We have to produce these. Now, a lot of it we do in-house.

We just outsource only things of production-wise maybe or some editing or things. But you’ve got to think about that too. Like the P&L.

Now people don’t look at that. I have the best idea in the world and they don’t realize the world doesn’t need another beverage, doesn’t need another shoe company, doesn’t need their clothing company. But when you have these little brands coming out there, I really appreciate going to like the…

I still go to like the… I went to just the project show in Vegas to see what these streetwear brands are doing. And I always like to see the little one, the little bee in the bonnet.

I love to see the little take on things. And they’re willing to take chances and they maybe have a swear word in their copy, which no one else is going to do that. That’s what keeps the industry young.

It keeps it exciting, you know? So look at it, whatever industry it is. How can you beat that?

I mean, I was years and years ago offered a job with a nut company. I’m not kidding, like cashews, like peanut. And I remember calling a buddy going, man, this is intriguing.

And I’ll never forget, he said to me, and he was at CMO of a major surf brand. He goes, Stix, he’s like, just make sunflower seeds. He goes, make sunflower seeds cool.

And that’s always stuck with me. He’s like, make sunflower seeds cool. Because no one ever done anything in sunflower seeds, you know?

So that was an aha moment for me. Like, wow. Like you take something, you know, the people, it’s there.

It’s a huge business, but no one’s done anything fun or sex or anything in sunflower seeds. So that’s the kind of way I look at it. And it just happened to be water this time, you know?

So I hope that answers your question of what you think is going to run in that way.

Absolutely. Absolutely. Fantastic.

Yeah. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Jacob, do you have any sort of questions?

A final question. I’d love to know about the future of Liquid Death and perhaps where you want to see it go.

You know, honestly, this is my quote and my quote only, but I want us to be the British Empire. Back in the day where the sun never sets on the British Empire. Remember those days?

Like they were everywhere? That to me would be like, if you can go to Cairo and grab a Liquid Death, or you can be down in Byron Bay and you can get a Liquid Death, you know what I mean? To me, like, just be able to think about the amount of people we turn on to sustainability and they want to drink water and they want to put it in their esky down there, they want to have it out, you know.

That to me would be, wow, we’ve done something, we’re getting hands and hands all over. That’s my end goal. It’s like everyone should have a can in their hand.

You know, that would ultimately where I would want to be. But we want to keep having fun doing it. We don’t want to lose our edge.

And I don’t think we ever will. I’m not saying every single thing we do is going to be a home run by any stretch, but we’re going to make sure we get on swinging. You know, if like it’s something that, okay, that didn’t do as well.

And there are certain ones, trust me, Mike has just been on the phone. He’s like, all right, that’s stuck. Let’s move on.

Like, we don’t dwell on it. We got whatever. If you just flat out call us out.

He’s like, that didn’t resonate at all. All right. So what’s the versus I’m mad at someone whose ass is it?

I’m mad. It’s over. Right.

We admit it. It sucked. Let’s move on to the next thing.

You can’t dwell on that. But you won’t. What’s the saying?

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. And so we’re going to keep taking these shots. Not everyone’s going to score, but we’re going to keep doing it.

And so to answer your question, the idea would be that the sun never sets on Liquid Death. Because I would love to be able to say that. Because I remember the day at Red Bull when they said, oh, my God, we are finally in Chad, Africa, or somewhere crazy.

We’re pretty much on every continent now. And then I was like, because I was in touch with the guys in Hossburg. They wanted me to help them produce this event down there that I had done in the States.

I always wanted to get up to South Africa. So they had it there, but we weren’t north. And all of a sudden we were north.

And I remember they’re going, we are short of Antarctica. We are everywhere now. And I was like, oh, my God.

And it was like in a short five years where it was. It was not a long runway. So that to me was like for all of us collectively was just like, we all pat ourselves on the back.

Like, wow, we built something very special here. So that’s what we’re doing here. And it’s just we’re in North America right now.

And look out world. That’s where we’re off to next.

Well, we’re rooting for you. That’s awesome. I can’t wait to have a counting hand here in Sydney, in ISCE.

So looking forward to that.

You should look up Chris Mata. He is the CMO or CEO of Surfing Australia. He’s up in the Gold Coast.

But if you ever need a connection up there, let me know. He was my counterpart in sports marketing at Red Bull because he’s already hit me up about importing it down to Australia. I hope so.

I love it down there. I got to get down. I left before the Olympics, but I want to I will get down there eventually.

I will for sure. And UK may be over there sooner than later.

So yeah, when you’re next down, let me know. We’ll go for dinner or something. It’ll be your or a beer or whatever you want, whatever you drink or water as whatever you drink.

So it’ll be it’ll be great to hang out. Look Stix, you know, thanks for so much. I know you’re so busy and everybody who’s listening to this will want me to to kind of share their gratitude and thanks for sharing your your approach, your inspiration and and your you know and your transparency around all of these things.

So thank you so much. We really, really do appreciate it.

Well, you’re doing me a favor. I’m just flattered to be on here. Like I just I really am.

I thank you. I’m never too busy for stuff like this. Like I love to share if I can.

And that’s why I work with these students. As a matter of fact, tonight I’ve got an online brand strategy actually with the University of Colorado for the kids tonight. And I’m happy to do it.

Whatever I can do, what comes around goes around, you know. So the fact that you were nice enough to ask me to be on this, heck, for sure, I was going to clear the decks. You asked me way in advance, which I appreciate.

And I was going to clear the decks for this. Of course I would. So thank you so much for having us.

Me and obviously having Liquid Death is wonderful. We wouldn’t be able to do it without people like you to believe in what we’re doing.

Well, we wish you all the very best and you get our full support. So if you ever need anything from Jacob and I and any of our listeners, let us know and listeners, watch this space because Liquid Death is coming to a store near you soon. And so you can do your part in spreading the message and getting involved in this amazing brand.

So thanks Stix. It’s been awesome. You take care.

Have a lovely day and we’ll catch up soon.

Thank you. Let’s.

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