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Pabst Blue Ribbon

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Wednesday, Jun 28, 2006

It is tough to know what beer to drink when taste is not the guiding principle. The beer you drink says something more than “I’m itching to get drunk.” Like your clothes or car, it shows exactly what kind of person you think you are. It’s an occasion for you to communicate important facts about yourself to anyone who reads the label (never have it in a glass—no one will know what it is and what would be the point of that?). And if you are cool, you should already be aware of this: Pabst Blue Ribbon is no longer cool. AdPulp cites another advertising blog, which broke the story.


Budweiser has been sinking millions into new logos and a big ad push for the last 18 months or so, as we noted here about a year ago. Here on the ground in Philly, we’re starting to see it pay some dividends. This Memorial Day weekend, the King of Beers has tall boys sitting in coolers and pint glasses where one year ago you would have found Pabst Blue Ribbon. What happened to PBR, you ask? Some say they succumbed to the Acronym Rule, which states that as soon as your customers know you well enough to shorten your name to a few letters, things are nearly over. Others say they tried to cash in on their hipster status by sponsoring local bands and taking out cheesy ads in alt weeklies. Why couldn’t the brand just sit still, shut up, and allow itself to continue to be discovered generation after generation? They took the short view, tried to cash in, and scared away the flighty trucker-hatted Strokes boys who hate, above all else, to feel like they’re being sold to. And now solemn old Bud sopping up the macrobrew froth PBR left behind.


The AdPulp blogger doesn’t believe the company should be blamed: “Maybe the ‘trucker-hatted Strokes boys’ are constantly in need of something new to define as cool. Maybe no brand need bother themselves with attempts to appeal to this group. Maybe PBR never did bother with this group, other than to acknowlege their ‘flighty’ existence.”


If only more companies would realize that they needn’t bother marketing to hipsters, maybe hipsters would suddenly vanish. Their very fickleness will render them socially invisible. (In a sense, this is already true. No one will actually admit to being a hipster, so it’s almost as though they don’t exist.) When ads stop trying to appeal to you, you lose one of contemporary society’s most power tools of self-recognition along with the primary source of social recognition. Suddenly no one is trying to integrate you into the spending machine; suddenly your dollar no longer seems a vote for the shape your cultural landscape will take.


But it seems as though hipsters are only too visible. But I tend to agree that marketing to hipsters scares them away. Hipsters tend to work by ironizing ads designed for others and trying to subordinate the brand’s intended narrrative to the story of how cool and clever the hipster has proven himself to be. One must use a little reverse psychology to appeal to them—make a really bad beer and market it to the permanent underclass, then the hipsters will come running. Act as though you, the advertiser, are in on the hipsters joke, and you will lose them. The hipster’s most important brand is his self-image, so he can tolerate no other brand that seems to have anticipated that—it feels like competition rather than marketing synergy. When PBR was outré, it provided synergy with the hipster’s image of being a subversive. (Look, he takes products not made for him and uses them anyway!) When PBR tried to promote its capability for subversion, it competed with the hipster on his own turf.  Budweiser’s ads, by contrast, are still allowing the hipster to speak his own language and reappropriate Bud for his own purposes. That act of reappropriation to the hipster is a grand expression of creativity, and seeming creative is one of the hipster’s prime directives. Budweiser’s long tradition offers the hipster ample material for public acts of meaningless subversiveness.

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