A new novelty item hits select shelves this week: a 1,844-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, so named for the year the beer was created, being sold for around $850 (though pricing will vary depending on location). While it seems excessive, PBR has such a devout following that it’s a marketing stunt just crazy enough to work. Speaking as someone who owns multiple items of PBR merch, I’m looking into renting a vehicle big enough to tote the 1,844-pack as we speak.
Over the years PBR has quietly joined in on several trends, releasing a nonalcoholic version of its signature beer as well as PBR-branded seltzers (both with alcohol and with weed) and a hard iced coffee drink that has no business being as good as it is—PBR even debuted its own whiskey. But what’s sustained the brand is its classic Americana can of lager, the design and flavor of which have gone basically untouched, and that’s what people love about it. Unlike other major US beer brands, it’s not widely advertised on TV, and it lacks a discernible mascot (no PBR clydesdales, for instance). So how does the company get the word out? Does it even need to?
“Our aim is to show up authentically in the places and spaces our audience looks for entertainment—we engage with them and talk to them like they’re our peers,” Nick Reely, Pabst Blue Ribbon VP of marketing, tells The Takeout. “We feel like that approach connects us to our fans in a more meaningful way and builds stronger loyalty than overt advertisements on linear TV, which basically come across as corporations recommending their own brands to consumers.”
That approach is evident in the brand’s Twitter account, where the replies are full of interactions that read as human, and not just in the way that brands sometimes try to jump on social media trends for the cool points. I’ve had full conversations with the PBR Twitter account.
Whereas other leading brands might build entire campaigns around a new logo or slogan reveal, PBR doesn’t need to do that because the look is reliable. According to Reely, it’s just how the brand interacts with the world that changes, and the company doesn’t feel a need to be flashy about that either.
“It’s important for us to hold steady with our timeless look,” Reely says. “Staying on the front foot of what’s happening in cultures that are relevant to our audience, and understanding how our brand can tap into those movements... that’s how we approach evolution, not through packaging changes or new logos.”
So far it seems to be working. In 2014 Quartz reported that between 2003 and 2012 PBR sales jumped 200%, making it a billion-dollar company. These days, it remains among the top 20 beers in US sales, The Columbus Dispatch reports.
According to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, below premium beers (read: your fave shitty domestics) is the only beer category to see a year-over-year increase from June 2021 to June 2022. Premium beers, ciders, and even the once beloved hard seltzers all dropped. And even before then in 2020, Busch Light was by far the fastest growing beer brand, with sales jumping more than 40%, according to Statista.
Yes, people will continue to try new things and sing the praises of craft brews and other boozy wonders. But at the end of the day, you’re probably not going to buy a case of 1,844 IPAs. You are going to tap into your savings account, borrow your friend’s truck, and drive to to wherever they’re selling this thing. At least, I know I am.