Whining, Dining, and Other Unpaid Observations

Pabst Blue Ribbon: The Hip, Recessionomic Choice

Posted in advertising by KP on September 19, 2009

Hey you. Yeah, you. Would you like to be drinking a trendy, authentic beer that says “irony” and “anti-establishment,” all in one inexpensive, unassuming bottle? Pabst Blue Ribbon is your answer, friend.

Ad Age reports a 25% sales increase in the brand, despite a higher price point than other “below premium” brews and a seeming flat-out refusal to advertise.

You know, I like this. I don’t think I’ve ever even had a PBR, yet I feel it has much more of a personality–both homey and a little hipster, which is a hard combination to pull off–than, say, Natty Light or Busch. Miller High Life is climbing its way up the ladder of distinctive brand images with its brilliant advertising and the whole¬† “The Champagne of Beer” thing, but it’s spending 4.7 mil (for just the first half of 2009, by the way) to do it.

PBR has gone rogue, and it’s paying off.

Based on principle, I would never encourage a brand to just do away with advertising. First, it usually spells decreased awareness, preference and sales. Second, it kills the lifeblood of all the good folks in the ad biz, and no one should want that. We’re nice people.

But: I find it fascinating that PBR is capitalizing on the recession without the use of advertising. Current advertising. Because the rise in PBR’s sales is not only attributed to the economy. Their word-of-mouth campaign in 2004–that’s 5 years ago–is being hailed as the consumer’s motivating factor.

Here, Jeremy Mullman will tell you:

Back in 2004, Pabst executed a highly effective word-of-mouth campaign that made the long-declining brand an “ironic downscale chic” choice for bike messengers and other younger drinkers who viewed the beer as a statement of non-mainstream taste. PBR sales surged by nearly 17% that year, and have climbed at single-digit rates since, until this year, when the recession sent its sales soaring as more drinkers were pushed into the subpremium category.

And that is something I like. A struggling brand rebranded itself, and that new, more desirable image stuck.

Bravo, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Radio Shack? Take some notes.