If there's one thing Liquid Death believes we shouldn't be fucking, it's the planet.
Just in time for Earth Day, the cult water brand known for its punk tallboy cans is dipping its toes into the world of porn with its "Don't F*** the Planet" campaign, which simultaneously supports adult performers while also highlighting the dangers of single-use plastic water bottles. After all, Liquid Death has always been about sustainability with its "infinitely recyclable" aluminum cans, so with the help of newly minted spokesperson Cherie DeVille, the company is hoping the world will actually listen to their message, seeing as how it's now being delivered by "the internet's stepmom."
Don't get too excited though, as Liquid Death co-founder Mike Cessario explained "there's nothing sexy" about the campaign. Rather, it's "just this really unexpected person delivering a sustainability message," in a commercial directed and produced by legendary adult star and Burning Angel studio founder Joanna Angel, who now belongs to the company's lifestyle marketing team. So in honor of "Don't F*** the Planet's" debut, we sat down with Cessario and Angel to chat about everything from their fortuitous partnership to modernizing the marketing game to subverting expectations, whether it involves the water industry or adult entertainment.
For starters, let's talk a little bit about the mission behind Liquid Death.
Mike Cessario: I went through 10 years of working for big corporate advertising agencies, because it was the only place you could go to work covered in tattoos and still make six figure salaries. But you're still in giant corporate boardrooms, coming up with commercials for giant brands... And when I'd try to present what I thought were creative, awesome ideas, they would always get killed by the clients. So I eventually started developing my own idea for what I thought a great brand would look like in the modern age of culture.
Most brands still operate like they're following 1950's broadcast rules, but we all live on the internet now, where things don't have to be censored like the way network television is... So I wanted to have a brand that's actually doing things [reflective of] modern culture, which is the internet and social — and that became Liquid Death.
Another part of Liquid Death's ethos is sustainability. Can you tell me a little more about that and other past initiatives you've done to promote this?
Mike: "Death to plastic" has been the big part of Liquid Death since the beginning. Why is it called Liquid Death? Well, because it murders your thirst and we're bringing death to plastic bottles. So we've already done a couple of campaigns like "Cutie Polluties" — where we made these actual kids' toys and a commercial with these cute sea creatures that are mutilated by single-use plastic in the ocean — and we actually sold out and the video got a couple million views. So we're always trying to think of how to tell a sustainability story or message in the Liquid Death way, which is fun and irreverent. It's not finger pointing and telling people to do the right thing and make sure you recycle. Make it funny and people will be more open to the message.
Joanna, what made you interested in working for Liquid Death?
Joanna Angel: The marketing and the entire company image. Even the story about how Liquid Death got started actually reminds me of the same way Burning Angel got started. I feel like what Liquid Death is to all the other beverage companies Burning Angel is to all the other porn companies, so I've always sort of had a crush on the company from that standpoint. I just wanted to work with them and sent an email to [Mike], but I was already sure he was going to say no, because I know the stigma against porn and brands, but he actually replied.
I also just so happened to be at a crossroads in my life at the time, because I owned a studio for a long time, I sold it in 2018. After that, it was part of my deal to work for the company that bought my company for two years, but when it was actually about to come to an end, I wasn't really sure what I was doing next... So I just sent another email like, "Hey, by the way, are you guys hiring? I really love this company."
And what made Joanna a great fit for the company in your mind, Mike?
Mike: We're building Liquid Death by being with the right people who are permeating culture versus just throwing money at ads and eyeballs, so we have a pretty big lifestyle marketing team where everybody comes from different backgrounds... and come with their own skill sets their own networks of people... And Joanna came in to help market Liquid Death to her existing network and world.
Then, when it came time to have conversations about how Liquid Death gets involved in the adult film world, I [started talking to Joanna] about how to do this in a way that makes sense for the brand, doesn't piss off retailers or have feminists upset, because we're not Monster. You'll never see a girl with cleavage in a Liquid Death shirt and handing out free cans. That's just not what we do. We're not trying to use sex to sell a product like every other bro brand has done for decades. For us, it was more about how do we support that work?
So how does porn fit into the world of Liquid Death?
Mike: I always wanted Liquid Death to sponsor people like artists, musicians and all kinds of different, interesting people that Coke and Pepsi would never touch... It's like Red Bull and Monster, they did that in a smart way in the early 2000's, because nobody was giving money to skateboarders, metal bands, and things like that back then. And then when the internet started happening and action sports content and music videos became a huge part of YouTube, it blew up these companies. So now I look at it like, "Hey, what is the modern landscape of entertainment?"
Porn is a misunderstood vertical. It's something that's massively popular, clearly, just by the numbers... And a lot of people don't realize that if you advertise on porn sites, you will reach more people for a tenth of the price of what you're paying to ESPN or whatever. And they're just like, "Oh wow, we could never put our products on there," but it's almost like, "Well, why not?"
Let's talk a little bit about the "Don't F*** the Planet" campaign. How did that concept come about?
Mike: Once we were in [the adult entertainment realm], we had this idea for a commercial that was like, "Don't Fuck the Planet." It was this kind of this funny thing where like, if people aren't going to listen to scientists about plastic recycling being a myth, maybe they'll listen to an adult film star, because they're the most famous people on the internet — just in a different way that brands don't necessarily take advantage of.
The first person I called about it was Joanna, because it made total sense to have her direct and produce it. We also wanted to keep this very authentic to what you would do in an actual adult film, like have the same camera guys, the same locations and actors. We want everything to feel adult film, minus the sex.
Joanna: And I was so excited when Mike told me he wanted to do an Earth Day campaign through the lens of a porn star, which I thought was awesome... So when he said it was going to be told through a stepmom and that was the route we were going, the obvious choice was Cherie DeVille.
And what did it feel like creating this commercial?
Joanna: It was a very big, important project for me. It was my first chance to direct something that wasn't porn, and I feel like everybody always makes it feel strange when somebody in porn does something out of porn. They act like it's such a giant step up, and I don't want to like see it that way, because I'm so proud of everything I did in the adult industry. But now I can also make something that could potentially be on like NBC. It's just something I've never had the opportunity to do before.
I have to say I was so grateful because I was putting feelers out there for a job outside the adult industry. Not because I had any trauma or a bad taste in my mouth from adult, because I absolutely loved it; I just had been doing it for 20 years and had a company, sold the company and was just ready for a new challenge.
But it seemed like anyone I talked to didn't see the multitude of skills I've actually learned in the past 20 years, even though I've learned so many amazing things in so many different fields. Nobody saw them as real actual accolades or real skills, because they happen in porn, and it was it was it was quite infuriating. [But Mike] took them seriously and didn't talk to me like I was some pigeonholed, token sex person. We get to talk about branding and marketing and creative things. That was exciting to me.
Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now
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