How Death Wish Coffee Company Disrupted the Coffee Industry Through Marketing and Branding

Death Wish Coffee Closeup

Photo Credit: Death Wish Coffee website

In a saturated market, death wish coffee company’s rebellious marketing strategy and bold blends keep it alive and growing

Jittery hands and hyper brains run the live wire that is Death Wish Coffee Company. With a rebellious nature and nurturing spirit, Death Wish Coffee supplies dreamers and doers with the world’s strongest cup of coffee. After all, those following their own path must have a death wish.

At its core, Death Wish Coffee is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand that focuses on selling coffee online and through retailers like Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods. Where Death Wish Coffee differs from other brands is its blend of organic and fair trade certified Arabica and Robusta beans. One cup of Death Wish Coffee has twice the caffeine of a regular cup — a caffeine kick with a punch.

A harmonious medley of marketing trends and good timing usually steer companies to success. While this is true for Death Wish Coffee, ample opportunities and disruptive marketing gave it the jolt it needed to brew great things.

The Man Who Brewed the Strongest Cup of Coffee

Death Wish Coffee on Desk

Photo Credit: Intuit Quickbooks Youtube Channel

Back in 2011, at Saratoga Coffee Traders in New York, Mike Brown, the founder, and CEO of Death Wish Coffee, was battling business failure. With competitors like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks popularizing blonde brews and sugary flavors at the time, it was nearly impossible to find a powerful caffeine buzz. Yet the regulars at Saratoga Coffee Traders were begging for a deadly strong cup of coffee. At this time, Brown had his ah-ha moment — he had to brew the strongest cup of coffee for his customers.

Brown bought Saratoga Coffee Traders in 2008, and the previous owner trained Brown in the shop for 60 days before they finalized the sale. After a few years of keeping the shop afloat, Brown found himself drowning in the coffee rather than serving it.

“I think I needed to make like $5,000 a month to make ends meet at the coffee shop,” he said.

Ironically, Brown’s lowest point in business birthed his boldest idea.

“Customers would come in and ask for my strongest cup of coffee,” he said. “I wanted to surprise them, so I went online and did some research. I got samples from different importers and made my own blend. So once I had this product that the customers are raving about in my coffee shop, I made this website and made this brand, Death Wish.”

After some time as an e-commerce store, when sales flowed, Death Wish Coffee got the product placement of a lifetime. In 2013, Good Morning America opened the show with Death Wish Coffee, and sales doubled.

It was apparent to Brown that the tables were turning. In 2015, Brown stumbled upon a new opportunity to share his coffee with the world — a Super Bowl XLIX commercial spot fully funded and produced by Intuit Quickbooks.

“I saw an ad for an Intuit QuickBooks Small Business Big Game competition,” he said. “I completed a profile with links to my website and videos of my business. We got our community to vote, and we beat out 15,000 other small businesses.”

The commercial showed a crowded ship of Vikings sailing through a storm. The lead Viking said, “Row, awaken, and welcome death,” as the rushing sea transformed into coffee flowing from a mug to a man’s mouth. At that point in time, Death Wish Coffee was the smallest business the Super Bowl booked a commercial spot for.

“Right as they showed the commercial, there were 100,000 people on the site,” he said. “We had our busiest day of sales ever the day after.”

How Death Wish Coffee Roasted the Competition with Disruptive Marketing

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The unconventional concept of Death Wish, alongside a deadly skull and crossbones logo, stands out among large-scale competitors with cheery incentives.

Death Wish Coffee’s website states, “To some, a ‘death wish’ may sound irresponsible, morbid, a step too far — but we believe it’s the boldest sign of living life to the fullest.”

Death Wish Coffee lives its disruptive marketing strategy to the fullest.

Traditionally, disruptive marketing is a strategy in which companies model or re-design their products to please an emerging market or customers looking for something new. At Death Wish Coffee, disruptive marketing looks more like knowing the customer well and giving them precisely what they want. In a Death Wish Coffee podcast episode, Brown explains how the customers rule the roast:

“I put myself in the customer’s shoes all the time, and it’s like, okay, do they love this product because it has that exclusivity factor, or do they love it because it’s a great product? Or do they love it because it’s got a skull and crossbones on it, and it kind of fits in with their identity, and they don’t want anyone else to have it?”

A Cup of Death Wish Coffee with a Splash of Relatable Memes

Photo Credit: @deathwishcoffee Instagram Account

Memes sporting phrases like “Life’s too short to drink sh*t coffee” and “Coffee is just concentrated life force” have been floating across Death Wish Coffee’s social media pages since 2013. Each shows off Death Wish Coffee’s color palette, font, and logo, bringing seamless consistency to its online personality.

Sophia Abbasi, one of Death Wish Coffee’s past social media managers, said, “Our memes are a reflection of ourselves and our community — the sarcastic, cynical coffee-drinking misfits that run on the world’s strongest coffee.”

Now Death Wish Coffee wields its target audience’s passion for strong coffee like a sword, creating humorous memes that relate to their habits. Regardless of how sarcastic or cynical the memes may be, the audience always resonates with and shares them to the point of going viral.

Sipping on Success

The synchronicity of opportunities has guided Death Wish Coffee to reap success. Today Death Wish Coffee is one of the most successful Shopify stores in the United States. The company has sponsored New York Comic Con, Nascar drivers Ty Dillon and Daniel Hemric, and the Special Olympics. In 2018 the Death Wish Coffee team sent freeze-dried Death Wish Coffee into space via NASA Expedition 56.

“Death Wish Coffee’s purpose is fueling other people’s passion — whether it’s motivating them or giving them a great cup of coffee or entertaining them, or just giving them something to look forward to later on in the week,” Brown said. “Thinking about that and how happy it makes others, that gets me up in the morning.”

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