Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cool story, bro.

I read an interesting 'article' on the Q&A site Quora this morning that was in answer to the question, 'How did Pabst Blue Ribbon become the hipster beer of choice?'

Leon Kitain wrote an excellent answer to this and I wanted to repost it because it hits on a really valid point about social media and 'new marketing' in general that I want to discuss.

Here is the answer in full to save you a few clicks:

"The sad but true answer is good marketing. Here is the story. 

In the late 90s, PBR was doing poorly. Really poorly. They were shutting down its breweries, selling their formula to Miller, and in 2001, they would sell only a million barrels, its lowest in dozens of years, and 90% below its peak in the mid 70s. They believed that their demographic was the 40 to 60 year olds, who were the ones who loved PBR during its peak. But boy oh boy were they wrong. 

Around 2001, there were a couple of interesting things that popped up. Kid Rock wore a PBR belt buckle, and some top snowboarders in Utah adopted PBR as their drink of choice. Most likely these were intentionally ironic actions, but these days, who knows? Also, people in Portland were drinking it too. This was all brought to the notice of a newly hired marketer named Neal Stewart, who was only 27 at the time, and soon rose to be the brand marketing manager. 

So he went around the bars in Portland and he started handing out PBR schwag. He wouldn't be dressed PBR, and he would never overtly advertise. He'd just sit there, and people would come up to him and ask for the stuff that most other beer companies could never force on people. The people liked PBR because it was scarce, cheap, and plagued with persistent rumors of imminent bankruptcy. Neal saw this, and decided to cash in on it. Under him, PBR's marketing was to do as little as possible. When Kid Rock came around to ask for an endorsement they told him to shove it, and made it public. When the Pro snowboarders offered for PBR to endorse their competitions, PBR did nothing, but they made sure people knew they were doing nothing with the big guys. 

Instead, who they sponsored were the Portland hipsters. They sponsored skateboarding meets, art galleries, independent publishers, and they did it in such a way as to not appear corporate. And with every little event they sponsored, they built their network, they built brand loyalty among subcultures that hate corporations, hate marketing, and were previously thought immune to such tactics. Having Kid Rock endorse them would have cost 500k, hiring 10 reps per city to go convince small bars and neighborhood institutions to carry PBR cost the same and was much more effective. In 2003, at the peak of these marketing campaigns, half of PBR's whole workforce was involved in these marketing efforts, and in the end, it was such grass roots marketing that got PBR firmly established as the hipster beer of choice." 

More info can be found at or

(the article links were from Quora user Peter Clark)

Now to add my two cents. I work in social media marketing and this highlights my approach towards many things in my work life and as an artist. The major problem with Facebook marketing in general currently is the way that it is being utilized. I think that most larger entities look at it as a narcissistic town square where circles of people are advertising many things; individuals are advertising their own lives, brands are advertising their images, etc. Sites like Facebook and FourSquare allow folks to broadcast their consuming preferences among their circle of friends, making it the quickest method of word of mouth marketing so far. Word of mouth is the strongest type of marketing simply because the information is coming from an already trusted source: a friend or family member. PBR pretty much did the same thing, here. 

What companies need to begin to realize is that you don't become the brand image you want to become by coming up with a catchy slogan about how good you are, you have to actually demonstrate it in a way that can be proven and spread by other people. PBR did this by having their own employees pound the ground and just hanging out with folks and sponsoring events that needed sponsorship (rather than big name stars to associate with) and that were actually valid cultural events among their target demographic. Social media is great for organizing events at the click of a button, why not sponsor a local event that could use the help and promote that? 

With that being said, there are already several associations, businesses and publications doing just this right now. Shop Local does a great job in keeping Tulsa citizens up to speed on hot new eats and cool places to shop around town. They're up to date, have relevant information and actually put their money where their mouth is and shop at these establishments. Dog House at 1101 S Detroit in town does an excellent job in shilling out the best tasting hot dogs (not even locally, like fucking period for real) and showing up to local events and shows. 

To summarize, if you want people to believe you, you have to really back up what you say you're going to do. This applies in our day to day lives, in eating hot dogs and drinking beer and even in social media marketing. It's not enough to pose and say you're the real thing. Just get up and get after it, homeboy. With that said I'm about to put on some wayfarers and go to the farmer's market.

Hey, at least I'm not lying to you about it.

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