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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pabst Blue Ribbon and Negative Brand Perception, How Word of Mouth (WOM) and Brand Evangelists Can Impact Your Business

Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer (PBR) and Brand Evangelists.As we lead up to Labor Day, and all the barbecues that go along with it, I thought it would be fitting to write a post about beer. That’s right, beer and barbecues. I don’t really drink much, but I feel like having a burger at a barbecue sometimes requires a beer. ;-) A few weeks ago, we had some of our friends over for a barbecue. One of my friends, Chris Sullivan, walked in and I noticed he had brought a mini cooler with some beer. As we started the festivities, Chris asked if I wanted a beer. “Sure, I said, what do you have?” He took out a Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and handed it to me. --I’ll pause my story here for a second.-- Pabst Blue Ribbon? Are you serious? Did I time warp back to college? Are we stocking a fraternity party? Seriously, I was not ready to hear that brand! Then it hit me…Chris knows his alcohol. He’s a connoisseur of beer and wine. Could Chris be on to something?? Back to the story. I looked at Chris grabbing the red, white and blue can of PBR, and I asked, “Is this good?” Chris didn’t even pause. “It’s the best value on the beer market”. It’s an outstanding beer and it’s only $6 for a 12 pack. “OK, Chris, I’ll give it a shot. “ I took a drink of PBR and let me tell you, it was good. No, it was darn good! As I thought, Chris knew his stuff. Then we spent the next 10 or 15 minutes talking about Pabst Blue Ribbon, the awards it has one, how long it’s been around, etc. I also brought one over to my wife. She loved it too. And, as I looked at the 12 packs that had cost me $15 each sitting on the sidelines of our party, I couldn’t help but think that PBR may be the greatest barbecue find on the face of the earth. Yes, a bit dramatic, but I was blown away.

WOM and Brand Evangelists
Let me dissect this Word of Mouth Marketing experience for you and for Pabst Brewing Company. First, they obviously have a brand perception problem. Both my wife and I laughed when PBR was mentioned, but we ended up loving the product. So how can PBR (or any company for that matter) overcome a negative brand perception? I believe that loyal customers are part of the answer. Chris is a brand evangelist and clearly communicated the benefits of the product. In addition, Chris is a trusted source of information. It’s not like he rolled up to my house by chance, right? So, how can PBR foster Word of Mouth Marketing with the Chris’s of the world? That’s the key. I don’t think advertising would cut it for me. I would have laughed while watching a commercial, hearing a radio jingle, or being bombarded with display advertising. But Chris got through. If I were PBR, I would reach out to brand evangelists and empower them. Maybe they can set up a dedicated WOM program, empower their brand evangelists, recognize them publicly, and harness what every company is trying to harness, Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM). Seriously, it could be the most cost effective campaign they ever launched and could generate high value customers. That’s a nice segue to my next point. ;-)

PBR and Me, Second Generation WOM
How did Chris’s first generation WOM impact PBR? Well, now I won't shut up about Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’ve told dozens of people about it already, including my father in law, my brother in law, my friends and coworkers, and even random people buying beer. I’m serious, I think it’s a shame that most people don’t know how good PBR is! So, between me and Chris, PBR has 2 brand evangelists that are spreading the word like wildfire. Imagine if PBR had 100, 500, or 1000 evangelists like Chris spreading the word. Link in a PBR ambassadorship program and they’ve got themselves a serious WOM campaign. PBR, if you are listening, act on this…and fast. As a marketer, I’d be shocked if you couldn’t increase revenue significantly if you launched a program like this. Why? Because you have an outstanding product and most people don’t know it’s that good. Your brand needs help.

Help Educate Others About Your Brand
To summarize, if your product has a brand perception problem, and you truly believe that you have a great product, tap into your loyal customer base for help. My guess is that they will be happy to help you. Sure, you should structure a WOM program, but the benefits should greatly outweigh any cost involved. And, the beauty of brand evangelists is that they don’t go away when your advertising spend goes away (like paid search, tv advertising, display advertising, etc.) Chris is a powerful force of WOM for PBR, but I ask you…how many Chris’s are out there waiting to be unleashed on their respective communities? In marketing terms, it’s low cost, high value communications, with high impact results. Why wouldn’t you try this?

Now go out there and try some PBR during your Labor Day picnics! You won’t be disappointed. Feel free to come back to this post and let me know what you think of the beer. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Glenn Gabe
PBR Brand Evangelist
1-888-PBR-POWER (ok, I’m kidding with the phone number, but the email address works!) :-)

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  • At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Mike Smith said…

    PBR is gross :) Bud Light all the way :)

    Nice article. Definitely has some good points in it.

  • At 5:58 PM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Mike. I'm glad you liked the post, but I'm disappointed you don't like PBR! :)

    Give it another try. I've been really impressed with it!


  • At 9:14 AM, Blogger Mike said…

    I'd be interested in finding out (If I were Pabst) *how* the product got such a bad reputation. The timing could be right where any negative WOM has faded from public memory enough that a positive resurgence through WOM is entirely possible. I agree, though. I'd likely ignore traditional media channels.

    All that being said, even with your positive WOM, I had enough beer on Labor Day to last me till Memorial Day!!

  • At 5:33 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Great point Mike. Determining how PBR received a negative brand perception would be a smart thing to do and could help craft new ways to connect with customers.

    That said, I did hear from Pabst Blue Ribbon last week after writing this post. They do have a community section of their site where you can meet and interact with other PBR fans. It's pretty cool. PBR Community Forum. I hope they expand on this in the future and keep connecting with brand evangelists.

    Also, I was definitely impressed to see that they were on top of what's being written in the blogosphere (and weren't afraid to engage).

    Hopefully you didn't drink your fill of beer for the year on Labor Day! :)


  • At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Strangely enough, I just stumbled this article after earlier this evening stumbling across a list of the 10 (or was it 15...) worst cheap beers...this one being near the top (or bottom, as it were) with a scathing review by a blogger spouting disgust for the brand. Just yesterday I read that Carling, a Canadian-produced beer which is considered cheap and seems unpopular here in Canada was England's top selling cold beer. I suppose it boils down to a matter of taste and budget...and at six dollars for a twelve pack I bet it tastes sweet as honey. For my money, however, American beer just doesn't cut it. I'll try a PBR next time I'm out, though, just for you. Cheers.

  • At 10:45 PM, Anonymous DannyP said…

    The one thing that's definitely distinctive is how that 1st ice cold mouthful tastes. Although it's still tastes really good afterward, you never get that exact taste back after the first bottle/can.

    One of my favorites and that's from a self-proclaimed beer snob!

  • At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said…

    Great post but, with all due respect, I think you're about 5 years behind the curve.

    The PBR resurrection has been happening for a while, and it happened exactly how you stated. Word of mouth, along with a cool factor gained from being uncool for so long.

    I can tell you the point I realized the PBR craze was overblown. About 3 years ago I was in a trendy Scottsdale, AZ bar. PBR was on tap and selling for $5 a pint...along side imports and microbrews!

  • At 5:30 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…


    Glad PBR is one of your favorites, and it sounds like you know your beer! I'm now a big fan of PBR (as you read in my post!) and I'm finding new evangelists each day. It's amazing how word of mouth marketing works!


  • At 5:37 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hey anonymous, wish I new your name so that didn't sound so ridiculous! :)

    I agree that it's definitely a matter of taste. I was excited to find out about PBR (a great tasting beer), and then also excited to find out its price (an absolute bargain). I'm glad you are going to give it a try the next time you're out.


    I never said I was on the bleeding edge of beer! :) I just had a negative perception of the brand in my mind and was blown away by how good it actually was.

    Regarding the bar in Scottsdale (a place I have visited often), it doesn’t surprise me! I'll stick with the $6 12 packs. ;-)

    Thanks for stopping by!


  • At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Jake said…

    Glen, great article, but just to touch on a few points, the great PBR revival has been in motion for a while now. While it used to be a solid, working mans brew, PBR has gotten the attention of young college hipsters. The cheap price and negative brand perception that you mentioned are very appealing to members of that counter-culture institution.

    Not to mention, as you so rightly noted, the great taste!


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