On Pabst Blue Ribbon and Advertising

Several years ago, our hometown’s free-weekly Lawrence.com (back when it was still published in print as the Deadwood Edition) ran an excellent cover story about the resurgence of cheap “dad beers” in the downtown bar scene, and as part of a national trend among the young and affluent crowd that we had only just begun to label as “hipsters” in 2008. In addition to interviews with bartenders, brewers, and cheap beer aficionados, the piece pointed to a 2003 New York Times article which attributed Pabst Blue Ribbon’s rise as a counter-culture signifier to it’s lack of advertising, in contrast to the so-called “Big Three” (Budweiser, Miller, and Coors), companies that dominate the American beer industry by spending a combined $1 billion advertising yearly.

While the above video (created for spec by Jacksonville, FL art director Ryan Huffman, aka “The White Bull”)  is not an actual licensed commercial for the product, it illustrates the point made by the Times article. PBR cultivated a loyal following who insist they buy the brand for its taste or price, not image or because of the influence of advertising. And that is exactly the image Pabst Brewing Co. has embraced– Your Grandpa’s beer… The working-class beer-drinker’s beer.

The Times article makes another valid point about how such a growth in sales would effect any brand, one that accurately predicted how Pabst would approach its marketing in a way that capitalized on the trend without alienating their ad-shy core followers.

“But any trend with even the slightest commercial implications in the American marketplace immediately becomes subject to two iron laws. The first is that it will attract a swarm of consultants, marketers and journalists, trying to deduce the trend’s origins. Second, efforts will be made to amplify and prolong the trend, profitably.”

Above: another spec ad, this one a more accurate representation of actual PBR drinkers (“hipster” young professionals… or professional hipsters?)

You have to hand it to the above-mentioned ad-wizards for solving Pabst’s marketing dilemma. In addition to the initial guerrilla marketing tactics described in the Times piece (recruiting New York bike messengers as visual and word-of-mouth brand advocates), Pabst Brewing Co. has focused its efforts on creating outdoor mural advertising from fan-submitted artwork, rather than traditional television and billboard ads. Just take a look at their website, PBRart.com, where the gallery of submitted pieces includes visual references to everything from Victorian and Renaissance art to graffiti stencils and rat-fink.

Above: a cubist representation of the all-too-familiar red white and blue PBR can

Update: Somehow we forgot to include one of the most iconic PBR endorsements of all time, courtesy of Mr. David Lynch.