Liquid Death transcends water by hijacking our lizard brains

The human brain is amazing at certain tasks — say, inventing things like the wheel or Cheez Doodles — but it's always surprising to me how easily our big brains fall for blatant marketing tricks. 

This Atlantic piece digs into a product that sounds so idiotic on its face I can't believe anyone's buying it. Goth-themed canned water called Liquid Death. 

Liquid Death is not a water company so much as a brand that happens to sell water. To the extent the company is selling anything, it's selling metal, in both senses of the word: its literal aluminum cans, which it frames as part of its environmentally motivated "Death to Plastic" campaign, and its heavy-metal, punk-rock style. 

Rather than focus on this one product, this piece takes a wider view, examining how people fall for marketing campaigns so completely that they no longer even really care what the actual product is. 

You can think of Liquid Death as the apotheosis of meta-advertising. It doesn't just say Forget the product for a moment while you watch this ad. It dispenses with the product entirely. The advertisement is the product. What Liquid Death is selling is not so much purified water as purified marketing, marketing that has shed its product—the soul without the body. 

It's not like the companies are trying to hide the ball — the CEO has a clear-eyed view of conducting business in America:

Liquid Death, [CEO] Cessario likes to say, is by no means unique in its focus on marketing. "Like every truly large valuable brand," he told The Washington Post last year, "it is all marketing and brand because the reason people choose things 98 percent of the time is not rational. It's emotional." 

Look, I get it, a killer marketing campaign can be a lot of fun. Memorable. I look back to some ads from my childhood with great nostalgia. (The Empire Carpet jingle is forever seared in my brain: "588-2300…Empiiiire!")

My larger point: corporations are expert at reaching our lizard brains. We have got to build up our defenses by teaching media literacy to kids and adults alike so they can recognize when they are being manipulated.

See also: How Liquid Death took the water market by storm