We Drink Pabst to Stick It to the Man

Oh man, I feel a brand dissection coming on:
The resuscitation of Pabst Blue Ribbon offers the best example of how subtle the Don Drapers of today can be. P.B.R. went from a beer known for being cheap and bland and in seeming terminal decline in 2001, to a brand known for being cheap and bland that has increased sales by over 25% since 2008, in spite of raising prices in the middle of a recession. That’s on top of a roughly 60% increase in sales between 2001 and 2006, due to a stealth marketing campaign astutely analyzed by Rob Walker in his book Buying In.

Alex Wipperfürth, who consulted for P.B.R. during those years and has written a book that draws on his findings, describes P.B.R. customers as engaging in “lifestyle as dissent” and “consumption as protest” – embracing this seemingly forlorn beer as a kind of expression of “no future” solidarity. P.B.R. succeeded by willfully keeping its marketing efforts as neutral as possible, to perpetuate the beer’s underdog image.

Buying P. B. R. is not much of a form of dissent, in comparison with, say, marching across the bridge at Selma or smuggling in food to Anne Frank, but it is dissent nevertheless. As Walker observes, buying the P.B.R. beer brand, owned by a large holding company, is hardly a way to strike back against corporations – but it is a way to protest against the phony hilarity and brand saturation of conventional marketing. Incredibly, Pabst marketing whiz Neal Stewart shaped his unconventional campaign by reading Naomi Klein’s 2000 book No Logo. After finishing Klein’s impassioned protest against the pervasiveness of corporate brands, Stewart concluded, "Hey, there are all these people out there who hate marketing – and we should sell to them."

Seriously, I think I'll do a brand dissection on PBR this week--a long overdue treatment. My house is almost done--just a little finish work on those boards in-between window lights--and so blogging depth and quality should pick up a bit. I definitely want to get back to the brand dissections, too.