Monday, April 21, 2003

OH CRAP: Pabst Blue Ribbon the trendy new beer. Via one of the Volokhs. The weird thing is, it's not a marketing thing, people seem to be choosing Pabst because it isn't marketed:

The increase comes the way a populist trend should: from the ground up. Pabst is Consumer Lite, a refreshing blend of economy and Americana, without all the heavy marketing campaigns, the greasy reinvention, the paid celebrity endorsements. It represents simpler times -- how nice in a world of corporate scandals and missing persons, 24-hour news, terrorism and burst economies.

Pabst sells its image of plainness -- its look of regular-guy health, its artless presence among the racks of imports and million-dollar household names -- in part because Pabst has no other choice.

Its advertising budget is pocket change, its production volume historically low. Stewart says there has not been a PBR television campaign in at least 10 years. Radio spots are limited to local endorsements, and print ads are relegated to the bargain bin of weekly alternative papers.


While part of Pabst's appeal may be its low price, no more than $2.50 a can (or bottle, where available) in bars, most name-brand domestics are sold for not much more. Other sub-premium beers, such as Busch and Natural Light, are priced comparably. Pabst caught on among some elusive Gen-Xers for other reasons, namely because of what it isn't: mainstream.

The popularity of PBR is a lesson in reverse psychology. Young adults have taken to the beer because it wasn't forced down their throats. Like ugly clothes and extreme sports, Pabst's value lies in its expression of individuality and choice, a rejection of consumer society by those who feel manipulated by it. Pabst's selling point is its distinct unpopularity, its unself-conscious existence among beers that reinvent themselves as regularly as political candidates.

When sales started to increase among this demographic, Pabst marketers did something almost unprecedented. They stayed out of the way.

"We want people to discover it," Stewart says. "We allow them to find that it's on the premises, that it's making a comeback. Our marketing is that we really facilitate what the market wants."


For now, low-saturation marketing has paid off. Pabst projects an image of casual earnestness. Buy it or don't buy it. Whatever. It is an image shared with today's indie rock scene, indie film scene, skateboarding scene, art and literary scenes. It is the image that, ironically, sells.

While most young consumers buy clothes and cars to make themselves seem as affluent and desirable as possible, the materialism of many of today's counterculture youth is just the opposite. It is meant to reflect the economics of "reality," of working-class thriftiness, of the notion of America at its best, at its most optimistic, at its blue-collar prime. Of course, this is not America. This is Americana -- and an appetite for what was good when things are going bad.

You should really read the whole thing, it's pretty fascinating. Just the idea of Pabst Blue Ribbon being a pure, authentic beer, when it's pretty terrible stuff--it fascinates me, anyway. In an all-pervasive consumer culture you piss off the squares by returning a fondly-remembered working class beer to prominence. And I think the Pabst label has a lot do with it--it has to be one of the greatest corporate icons ever. And it hasn't changed in a hundred years, which is kind of like being ceaseless and eternal in our culture. So--yes--I do think the constant presence of Pabst of a century of American life is what's fueling its current resurgence. You can but, but you can't market, that kind of authenticity.

Pabst looks coolest in the silver labelled brown bottles--though that review above claims aluminum is a necessary part of the distinctive Pabst taste. But if you're buying it for statement purposes, go with the bottles.

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