A Requiem for Cheap PBR

I got a kick out of this picture from Lauren's Love Shack burger story earlier today. Maybe a decade or so ago, I used to buy an occasional six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon at a Giant grocery store near my place. I think I paid $4-something for that sixer. I know I paid less than $5. Half a case wasn't much more.

A can of PBR now costs $3.25 at Lee Harvey's. The Black Swann gets $3 for a can; the Granada gets $5 for a 24-ounce tall boy. High prices compared to Tim Love's dollar cans, though you have to buy those five at a time. (A similar five-can special at Stackhouse runs $10.)

It's commonly thought that hipster demand drove up the price for the blue-ribboned cans, but that's only half the story. Sure, PBR marketed directly to the alternative crowd, but that crowd has now pushed way beyond skinny jeans and waxed mustaches. A new iPhone app that promises to hook you up with the nearest can seems to court a customer that certainly reaches beyond whatever a hipster is nowadays and into something nearing yuppiehood.

The proliferation of PBR came from a marketing effort that was rooted in the Portland, Oregon punk scene but soon took on a life of its own. The company hired brand advocates and armed them with cases of free beer to hand out at bars, discounted beer to sell to event planners, and buckets of swag to give away.

Those advocates snapped photos of enthusiastic drinkers, helped party organizers navigate alcohol regulations, and made sure that everyone who was anyone had a silver can in their hands, no matter how refined their record collection was.

If you were ever one of those people, you're the one responsible for the higher price of PBR, not just the hipsters. PBR is taking advantage of the oldest market principle known to man. They're charging what we're all willing to pay.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz