NEW YORK — While many marketers look toward virality to inspire their social media marketing strategy, Liquid Death’s digital success comes from walking to the beat of their own drum, according to Andy Pearson, vice president of creative strategy for the canned water brand, who discussed social media on an Advertising Week panel on Monday.
“For us, we are always just trying to create relevant content that feels more timeless, because our whole thing is entertainment over marketing,” said Pearson. “We’re posting the things that make us laugh, whether they’re relevant or not at that time.”
As brands continue to iron out their social media strategy in hopes of reaching Gen Z — known for their ability to move quickly from one trend to the next — marketers are often challenged with finding content that resonates with consumers to catch and hold their gaze. During the panel, “The Shifting Seas of Social Strategy,” which was moderated by Gabe Gordon, co-founder and managing partner of Reach Agency, executives from Liquid Death, Microsoft and Nestle discussed their approach to discovering what works.
Nodding to Liquid Death’s timeless approach, Pearson noted that his team often relies on what they personally find funny in hopes that fans will feel the same. For example, Pearson pointed to a more or less evergreen series, “People Love Us On The Internet,” which highlights negative social media comments left by unimpressed consumers. In a particular example that was highlighted, Liquid Death reposted an Instagram carousel with comments — repeatedly from the same person — that called out the brand as “sad” with statements like “bankrupt in weeks” and “give it up.” To date, those posts carry some of the highest engagement rates, Pearson said.
“The best part about Liquid Death is it's sort of the world's greatest brand inside joke, I think,” he said. “Because if you get it, you get it, and the people on the outside that don't get it just do not understand.”
The exec noted early on that when it comes to social media, Liquid Death doesn’t prioritize paid paths to engagement and instead relies on playful, engaging content with the goal to “win the day” and be the best thing someone sees on their social feed one day at a time. As such, it typically follows a “go big” mindset — sensible as the startup was just valued at $700 million. In one instance noted by Pearson, the brand kept tabs on a TikTok user who each day uploaded a video of himself drinking the product. As the one year mark approached on the video, Liquid Death’s CEO got a tattoo on his body of the fan’s face.
“We’re privileged in a way because we’re water — we don’t have to explain who we are,” the executive continued. “We’re lucky that we can kind of make fun content and put it out to the world and see ourselves as a content suite in a lot of ways rather than digital marketing.”
Run, don’t walk
On the other hand, Meghan Myszkowski, global head of social media for Xbox and Xbox Game Pass at Microsoft, placed a greater emphasis on quick turnaround and timely content. Namely, she pointed to a post playing off of the cheating scandal that has recently engulfed musician Adam Levine of the band Maroon 5. During the onset of the scandal, inappropriate direct messages from the artist were leaked, and brands, including Xbox, were quick to re-interpret the context. Playing off a new title, “Slime Rancher 2,” the brand took one of the game’s characters and edited it into the set of leaked DM’s — the creative quickly became one of the most engaged-with posts for the brand this year, she said.
Timing was of the essence, the exec added, recalling that the team brainstormed ideas around the trend one day around 9 a.m. and had it posted online by 11 a.m. that same day, speaking to the desperation brands face as they jump on viral trends. While waiting for the right time to post, Myszkowski recalled watching an unnamed brand to see if they would post something similar, and within 45 seconds of it happening, her team followed suit.
“The graphic was ready, we were just waiting for the right moment and then one of the guys on my team said, ‘I think this is it, I think we do it now or we don’t do it,’” she said. “And I said you know what, we’re going to do it, and then I’m just going to breathe deeply and hope that I don’t get an email from my leadership team, and luckily they all found it very funny.”
Toeing the line
During a topic of the panel that highlighted the risks brands are willing to take to appeal to social media users, a tweet by Hot Pocket that read, “You think your life is hard? Try being stuffed with meat 24/7,” appeared on screen. Similar to ways Microsoft’s Myszkowski felt following the Adam Levine post, Bryan Waddell, brand marketing manager for Nestle-owned Hot Pockets, joked about the brand’s social media manager having an open mind as they explored a more playful, sometimes suggestive content style. The tweet boasted over 80,000 likes and 12,000 retweets.
Poking around social media with new tactics and strategies has been a focus for the brand as it looks to communicate the 40-year-old brand to younger generations, a pivot from traditional efforts revolving around marketing to parents. As they hop on other trends, like posting fans’ direct messages or playing into meme culture, each post helps open doors to conversations about where the line lies and how to proceed while still encompassing authenticity.
“... If we are the witty misfit from a brand sense and personality, we need to express that in a way that any generation can see,” Waddell said. “This was definitely one that was very risk forward for us. But in turn, I think it's going to have immense opportunity for us next year and years beyond with what we're capable of communicating.”
Liquid Death also pointed out some risks it has taken, namely surrounding a campaign that enlisted adult film star Cherie DeVille for a one-minute spot sensually highlighting the perks of the recyclable brand leading up to Earth Day. In navigating such content, which grabbed the attention of nearly 200,000 people in one Instagram post, Pearson said it’s important to know where the limit lies and how to back up creative choices.
“We were surprised by the response of how many people recognized her …” he said. “It's always just about doing something and being sure that our logic is really sound, right, which was just hitting the most people we possibly could by just using someone unexpected.”
“It’s always very calculated,” Pearson added. “We know the things we’re not willing to do.