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Monday, July 28, 2008

Calling BS on PBR

In less than a decade, Pabst Blue Ribbon has gone from dying, old brand, to hipster dive bar icon.

In addition to being cheap, PBR is popular because the brand connotes an anti-corporate , anti-establishment ethos.

To its fans, PBR is the cool antithesis of Budweiser. Bud spent $1.35 billion last year begging Americans to drink its beer. PBR is a little company embraced by savvy young people who reject and resent being targeted by cheesy ad campaigns. PBR's popularity is a small triumph for authenticity over marketing.

Or not.

In his new book Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, author Rob Walker explains that PBR's status as an unmarketed beer is the result of, you guessed it, clever marketing.

From yesterday's New York Times review of Buying In written by Farhad Manjoo:

Like “some kind of small-scale National Endowment for the Arts for young American outsider culture,” Pabst paid the bills at bike messenger contests, skateboarder movie screenings, and art and indie publishing get-togethers. At each of these events, it kept its logo obscure, its corporate goal to “always look and act the underdog,” to be seen as a beer of “social protest,” a “fellow dissenter” against mainstream mores.

Pabst’s campaign was designed to push beer without appearing to push it.

As for the actual beer — it turns out Pabst doesn't even brew any.

In reality, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s anticapitalist ethos is, as Walker puts it, “a sham.” The company long ago closed its Milwaukee brewery and now outsources its operations to Miller. Its entire corporate staff is devoted to marketing and sales, not brewing. “You really couldn’t do much worse in picking a symbol of resistance to phony branding,” Walker writes.

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