The Beer Company That Grew Due to a Lack of Marketing

Photo by Keenan Barber on Unsplash

Marketing is one of the most important things for companies who are looking to grow or reach a new audience. If you have an amazing product, but no marketing, people aren’t going to know about it, and you are left with an expensive hobby instead of a business.

Or so you would think.

But, a beer company known as Pabst has exploded in recent years with its “Blue Ribbon” beer and it is due to a different reason: the complete lack of marketing.

Yes, you heard that right. Pabst Blue Ribbon grew due to the fact that they weren’t marketing. Crazy, isn’t it?

So, how exactly did that happen? And how did a company that was on the brink of collapse manage to overcome such a challenge and nearly double their sales in the span of five years?

Hipsters.

Literally.

That’s the actual reason.

I learned about this topic in Brand Hijack, so if you want to learn more, check it out here. This link is an affiliate link and it gives me a small commission if you purchase it, but even if you don’t buy it through me, get it!

The Growth & Decline of PBR

So, what is Pabst Blue Ribbon? Originally known as “Best Select”, it is a beer that is brewed by Pabst Brewing Company. The brand got the name from the blue ribbons that were tied around the neck of the bottles in the late 1800s and it is a name that has stuck ever since.

Best Select was a world-famous beer from the start, with over 100 million barrels being sold by 1899 and countless awards being given to the company for its taste. In fact, the awards are part of what caused them to include the blue ribbon on the bottle and eventually change the name to Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The growth continued for the company and sales would consistently grow for the next hundred years or so, eventually peaking at 18 million barrels in 1977.

Unfortunately, however, the growth would stop there and the next 30 years would be spent trying to recover the failing brand of a low dollar beer.

By the early 2000s, nearly all hope was lost and the brand’s sales were at a mere 1,000,000 barrels. PBR was on its last straw.

The Hipster Revival

But, things would change throughout the next few years. Just as the brand was about to be discontinued forever, executives at Pabst started to notice that sales were spiking, without any marketing or efforts on the company’s part.

Sales spiked 5.3% in 2002 and 9.4% in 2003 and a large portion of it was in Portland, Oregon.

The company was confused at first, so they did some investigating and found the cause of their newfound spike in popularity; large mustaches, trendy clothes, and an addiction to espresso and locally sourced coffee.

Hipsters.

Photo by Zach Savinar on Unsplash

Turns out, their lack of marketing caused a huge spike in popularity in this close-knit community. People who were looking for “underground” and “un-marketed” beer happened to stumble across one that had been around for over a century and needed a revival.

These newfound PBR enthusiasts drank the beer because they weren’t being spoon-fed images and commercials of logos, brands, and claims about taste or flavor. People felt like they had 100% freedom-of-choice as to if they wanted to drink PBR or not because of the fact that nobody was trying to force them to.

It was pure coincidence and great timing, but Pabst knew that they had something special to work with.

Taking Advantage of a Trend

If Pabst would have sat back and watched these events unfold without action, they could have lost the momentum and missed out on an amazing opportunity. But, luckily, they were smart and understood their new audience.

Around the time of the PBR renaissance, Neal Stewert, one of the divisional marketing managers for Pabst, decided to go out to Portland to understand what was happening. He would go into local bars, dressed in normal clothes, and sit around watching how everyone interacted with PBR as a brand. The word slowly began to get out and before you know it, people were approaching him in order to ask for free shirts and other promotional materials.

Yes, you heard that right.

Instead of trying to get people to take his promotional materials, people were asking him for them. Pabst had a goldmine in their hands.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

But, in order for Pabst to properly utilize this situation, they had to be careful. If they came on too strong and started to look like they were “marketing” the beer, then they would end up contradicting the entire reason that people started drinking it in the first place.

Because of this, they denied opportunities to sponsor large events and endorse celebrities. Instead of focusing on ways to reach a large number of people in a short amount of time, they focused on small, organic, and local events. They sponsored indie movie screenings, underground skateboarding events, and local hangout spots. They strengthened their bond with their preexisting community and let the people do the marketing for them. They directed their energy towards keeping their current consumers happy, creating a talk trigger and allowing word of mouth marketing to unfold naturally.

This style of marketing has continued up until present-day, with Pabst being highly involved with the trendy, young, underground, and hipster scenes. They have developed this into more of a permanent strategy and seem as if they are going to continue to keep up this style for the foreseeable future.

The Take-Away

I think this situation goes to show that measurable impressions and large reach aren’t everything. Marketing doesn't always have to be a set-in-stone process focusing on achieving click funnels and conversions. Sometimes it can be better to grow organically, with a smaller group of people in order to reaffirm their beliefs in your company and cause them to talk to their friends about you.

Marketing doesn’t have to be boring.

Pabst proves that marketing isn’t everything and that sometimes, a lack of marketing can be more beneficial for your company. I learned about this topic in a book known as Brand Hijack. It is an extremely interesting read and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed this story. If you would like to read it, click here to find it on Amazon.

(This link is an affiliate link so I will receive a small commission from it, but I would honestly promote it either way because it is one of the best books I have read in a while!)

Make sure to follow for more stories like these!

College Student | YouTuber | Marketing Addict

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store