For starters, PBR isn't that cheap any more. The brand hiked prices
this year, and a case of PBR now costs $1.50 more than MillerCoors'
Keystone, $1 more than Anheuser-Busch's Busch and Natural brands,
and 50 cents more than Miller High Life.
And it's growing at a faster clip than all of the aforementioned
brands -- all of which are growing this year -- despite the higher
So what's driving consumers to choose PBR? It's not media
spending, that's for sure. According to TNS Media Intelligence, PBR
didn't register any measured media spending during the first half
Rivals bump ad spending
That's a clear contrast from other cheaper brews, which increased
spending during the period vs. the year earlier in order to get
front of mind with drinkers seeking cheaper options. Natural Light,
for instance, spent $1.4 million on measured media in the first
half, up from only $350,000 a year earlier. And Miller High Life
spent about $4.7 million during the first half of 2009, compared to
$4.5 million a year earlier.
All of those brands are substantially bigger than PBR, which
accounts for about 0.7% of the U.S. beer business, vs. Keystone
Light's 1.8% share, High Life's 2.3% share, Natural Light's 4.2%
and Busch and Busch Light's combined nearly 6%.
But still, if PBR costs more and advertises less, why is it up
25% this year, vs. an 18% gain for Keystone and low- to
mid-single-digit gains for the others?
The answer, wholesalers and beer-marketing experts said, is
likely found in marketing activity that occurred long before the
current recession. Back in 2004, Pabst executed a highly effective
word-of-mouth campaign that made the long-declining brand an
"ironic downscale chic" choice for bike messengers and other
younger drinkers who viewed the beer as a statement of
non-mainstream taste. PBR sales surged by nearly 17% that year, and
have climbed at single-digit rates since, until this year, when the
recession sent its sales soaring as more drinkers were pushed into
the subpremium category.
Think of it as conspicuous downscale consumption, or something
"There's still a bit of hipness to it," said Benj Steinman,
editor of Beer Marketer's Insights. "Of all the subpremiums, it's
got a little more cache."
"It's an anti-establishment badge," added a major market
wholesaler. "It seems to play to the retro, nonconformist crowd
Pabst did not respond to calls by deadline.