Saturday, April 07, 2012

Pabst Power

When I was nine-years-old, far and away my favorite beer was Pabst Blue Ribbon. This was a good fifteen years before the brand became a favorite of hipsters, showing how far ahead of the hipster curve I was. And actually, my affection for the beverage had a lot in common with what the hipsters would eventually develop. In both cases, the allegiance came about because of absolutely nothing to do with taste. In my case, I had no idea what Pabst Blue Ribbon beer tasted like. Actually, I rarely even saw the stuff. And truth be told, I didn't really care. I had no desire to ever actually taste it. The fact that I enjoyed their radio commercials was enough for me.

For the last quarter century, the Milwaukee Brewers and Miller Brewing Company have had a sponsorship partnership. The Brewers play in Miller Park. Miller products are the only alcoholic beverages sold at that park. So people may forget (if they ever knew) that there was a time when that was not the case. In 1987, the first year I can recall regularly listening to baseball, Pabst was the exclusive beer sponsor for the Brewers. Since most games weren't televised, and I didn't have a video game system to play, and since I only had three channels on TV, I ended up listening to a lot of baseball games on the radio. Consequently, I heard hundreds, if not thousands, of Pabst Blue Ribbon commercials ("What'll you have? Robust flavor!"). Also, every game I was exposed to the "Pabst Power Inning" a contest wherein a listener could win a growing jackpot if a Brewer hit a home run in a particular inning. (It's kind of interesting that there now exists a scant three places on the entire World Wide Web that confirms that such a thing as the "Pabst Power Inning" ever existed. I guess this post now makes it four). Again, the cumulative effect of this exposure was not enough to make me want to taste the forbidden hops, but it did inspire a brand loyalty.

I realize that it is dangerous to extrapolate a nine-year-old's thought process to an adult sensibility, but I do think that I can apply something from this to an understanding of how branding works, or perhaps how it used to work. In a world where experience and opportunity is limited (which would describe most nine-year-olds' worlds), association is what inspires favoritism. I liked the Brewers, the Brewers were associated with Pabst, so therefore I liked Pabst. I think for a couple of generations musical preferences were developed largely because of associations with particular radio stations. People liked listening to the radio while they fixed cars, REO Speedwagon was on the radio, so they liked REO Speedwagon. If people had lived in a world where they could consciously sample their own music, where they could listen to a multitude of songs without actually investing in records, would REO Speedwagon have ever made it big?

I think it's fair to say that consumers have more choices than ever before. Media is accessible in a way that has never been before. In more cases, we can actually apply objective criteria when determining if we like something (unless you are a hipster). Even given the choice, I wouldn't go back to being nine-years-old. But I do miss the Pabst Power Inning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the “hipster” will live on! Due to more choices and media accessibility, maybe there will be more “hipster” groups, only smaller. I wonder, though, how many will use and apply “objective criteria.” Marketing can be powerful, especially when presenting the idea that something is actually better due to what it is associated with. What cooks a better egg than a frying pan with Rachel Ray’s name on it?

8:21 PM  

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