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PBR: a lesson in retro

I grew up in East Peoria, IL, and just across the river sat a Pabst Blue Ribbon plant.  In the 1890’s Pabst brewed the most popular beer in the country; in 2001 it closed its last plant and brewed its last beer.

But as you may (or may not) know, Pabst Blue Ribbon is certainly not dead.  In fact, for the past several years, it has been experiencing a tremendous comeback — with almost no advertising.  The brand has experienced a resurgence among snowboarders, 20-somethings, urbanites and suburbanites alike.  When we lived in San Diego, it was one of two beers on tap at one of our favorite pizza places — the other was Newcastle.

The brand is on Twitter, it has a blog … but it hasn’t had a national advertising campaign in over ten years.  Yet it continues to rebound.  In 2009, it grew by 33%.

Retro cool. Retro pricing.  In other words, it’s a slice of nostalgia to a new generation and it’s cheap.

For people in their 20’s and 30’s, PBR offers them a connection with a different time.  Call it nostalgia or sentimentality, but it’s apparently working.  And the fact a can only costs a buck or a buck fifty doesn’t hurt either.

But what implication does the resurgence of Pabst have in other areas?

For the church, it reminds me that we don’t have to run away from our roots.  People, especially younger people, are looking for a sense of connectedness.  They want to feel like they are a part of something larger, older than themselves.  It’s one reason why the emergent church movement is popular among this generation — it doesn’t shy away from the liturgical, historical aspects of faith.

It also tells me that word-of-mouth advertising still rules the day.  With a tip of the hat to Malcolm Gladwell, a tipping point can be reached when the right mix of people get on board.

Well, the PBR plant in Peoria closed down in 1982 but PBR remains.  For better or worse, it remains.