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The Underground Marketing of PBR

I stumbled upon what sounds like an interesting read, even without the beer angle. The book is Unmarketable by Anne Elizabeth Moore. In it, she apparently examines underground marketing. The full title, which perhaps gives more clues, is Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity.

From the publisher’s website:

For years the do-it-yourself (DIY)/punk underground has worked against the logic of mass production and creative uniformity, disseminating radical ideas and directly making and trading goods and services. But what happens when the underground becomes just another market? What happens when the very tools that the artists and activists have used to build word of mouth are co-opted by corporate America? What happens to cultural resistance when it becomes just another marketing platform?

Unmarketable examines the corrosive effects of corporate infiltration of the underground. Activist and author Anne Elizabeth Moore takes a critical look at the savvy advertising agencies, corporate marketing teams, and branding experts who use DIY techniques to reach a youth market—and at members of the underground who have helped forward corporate agendas through their own artistic, and occasionally activist, projects.

Sounds interesting enough, and Mother Jones gives it a decent review. But what initially caught my attention was a reference to Pabst Blue Ribbon in the review at the wonderful Powell’s book store in Portland, Oregon.

From the Powell’s review:

Since the early 1970s, sales of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer had plummeted steadily. Then, in 2002, the beer became the beverage of choice in hipster haunts everywhere. Sales rose 5.4% that year, followed by a 9.4% increase in supermarket sales in the first quarter of 2003. Marketwatchers initially scratched their heads at this sudden and inexplicable uptick. The beer hadn’t been actively advertised in years, but that’s precisely what worked in its favor. With ads from the competition (typical T&A showcases, burping frogs, and the ubiquitous catchphrase “Wassup?”) as foils, PBR was automatically imbued with an anti-corporate aura that couldn’t be bought.

Except that it was.

Interesting. Conventional wisdom has always been that retro hipsters latched onto PBR because of its anti-hipness and that Pabst was as surprised as everybody else by it’s sudden surge in sales. If, in fact, Pabst launched a quiet underground campaign that’s a much different, and some might say, sinister picture. I think I may have to see if my library has a copy of that.


This is only slightly off topic, another one of my little tangents, if you will. This is a transcript of a small part of my favorite stand-up comedian’s rant on marketing and advertising. Naturally, it’s better if you see him pacing the stage and yelling into the microphone, but you can still get the gist of his point about underground marketing. It is available on DVD (under the title Bill Hicks Live) and I certainly encourage everyone who doesn’t know his work to watch it. But be warned, he pulls no punches and isn’t to everyone’s taste. I saw him at least a dozen times before his death in 1994. At every single show at least one person, and usually more, got up and walked out in the middle. And not because he wasn’t funny, but because he challenged people to think in ways that made a lot of them quite uncomfortable.


Advertising and Marketing

From Revelations, as written and performed by Bill Hicks at the Dominion Theatre in London, England in 1991.

By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself. No, no, no it’s just a little thought. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they’ll take root – I don’t know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there’s no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan’s little helpers. Okay – kill yourself – seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you’re going, “there’s going to be a joke coming,” there’s no fucking joke coming. You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It’s the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, “he’s doing a joke… there’s no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend – I don’t care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking makinations. Machi… Whatever, you know what I mean.

I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, “Oh, you know what Bill’s doing, he’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market, he’s very smart.” Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! “Ooh, you know what Bill’s doing now, he’s going for the righteous indignation dollar. That’s a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We’ve done research – huge market. He’s doing a good thing.” Godammit, I’m not doing that, you scum-bags! Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! “Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill’s very bright to do that.” God, I’m just caught in a fucking web. “Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market – look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar…” How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don’t you?” “What didya do today honey?” “Oh, we made ah, we made ah arsenic a childhood food now, goodnight.” [snores] “Yeah we just said you know is your baby really too loud? You know,” [snores] “Yeah, you know the mums will love it.” [snores] Sleep like fucking children, don’t ya, this is your world isn’t it?


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