Pabst Blue Ribbon Vintage Ads

Pabst Blue Ribbon, also known as PBR, is the most famous product of the Pabst Brewing Company, and incidentally, my favorite beer. Known by a few different names (Pabst Best Select and Pabst Select), before its current PBR moniker, PBR has been around since 1882. A while back I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever seen, watched, or heard a PBR advertisement though. I know the brand had experienced a cult renaissance during the last decade or so, and that my grandfather used to drink it when he was my age, but that was about it. A friend of mine showed me a vintage Pabst ad from the forties and, because it was so seemingly ridiculous, it made me wonder how these advertisements (and alcohol marketing as a whole) had evolved over the years. I’ve included some advertisements from the last century, as well as my commentary on what I believe the marketing approach was at that time so that we all can enjoy the evolution of this beloved brand.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1900

Pabst 1900

Taken from the era when ‘drugs and alcohol’ were marketed as elixirs, extracts and tonics. This advert purports the idea that Pabst is perfect for someone who struggles with anxiety, or indigestion — beer was a cure-all remedy really. Perhaps this marketing approach was a reflection of the sentiment of the times, as America was on its way to the unsucccessful Prohibition era. I assume that having a bunch of rip-roaring, fun-loving drunk guys and/or attractive women in bathing suits as part of the advertisements would probably have not worked at this time.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1913

This advert shows that the company had then moved away from their original marketing approach and were now focusing on their beer for its intrinsic quality. The fact that these men are wearing suits suggest that the beer is a luxury product. Note the half-pint sized glassses, which suggests that this high quality beer ought be sipped, and enjoyed like a fine wine. Pabst aimed to get the messagee across that Pabst Blue Ribbon was the choice of Gentlemen.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1936

The portability of the non-refillable can! At the time, these Keglined TapaCans were quite the innovation, and Pabst wasn’t afraid to admit it. This ad definitely plays on the past angle of Pabst being a high quality beer, but now it comes – “hermetically sealed” – in a portable can, that is stackable. It’s safe to say that this ad is tailored to the effect that, “you’d be stupid not to drink Pabst.” Always a good angle, because you feel good about yourself after having bought the advertised product!

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1938

The obvious elephant in the room is that this advert is culturally insensitive. At the time, this depiction of African-American stereotypes was quite commonplace. Racially-affected vernacular aside, Pabst was attempting to convey the message that Pabst was the brand of beer that people on the up-and-up would order. Not only would ordering this beer put you in favor of the bartender, but it would also impress the people who served you your delicious beverage. The aim would be to make them think, “Hey this guy drinks Pabst, so he must have some class!” It was sort of like ordering bottle service at a club these days, just because.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1940

This is about the time that color began to be used in print adverts. Similar to the previous two marketing angles, this advert is angled at proving that Pabst is a quality product. This one takes it a bit further by saying that this beer is distinct and its qualities are unique. So much so that, while drinking Pabst blindfolded you could make the distinction between PBR and its competitors.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1942

This is the beginning of Pabst’s campaigning on the fact that its beer is a blend of 33 different brews that are aggregated into one ultra brew. It is also a marked change in advertisements, going from marketing PBR as a luxury or high-end product to one that is now inclusive of the everyman. Rather than saying, “drink our beer and be classy’, they were saying, “this beer is good for you just how you are.” Or rather than this beer being advertised as a class symbol, it is now a sign of light-hearted fun and amusement.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1943

Again Pabst has taken the angle that its beer should be the drink of choice for everyone in the community. This ad, taken from a larger consistent campaign, ran for several years and was set in a fictional ‘Ribbon-ville’, wherein all the residents were ribbon-human hybrids. Each ad focused on a different member of the community to show that, no matter who you are or what you do, Pabst is the beer that is just for you!

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1945

By 1945, Pabst was now striving to promote the fact that PBR is made as a blend of 33 brews. This became the theme of the 1945 ad campaign, and I think it is very interesting to be on the offensive with the fact that the beer is an amalgamation of a bunch of beers. Because, with Scotch Whiskey, distilleries are always very sly about mentioning that their product is a blend. Very interesting approach, and the pictures are pretty amusing. Perhaps also it was the begining of clever beer advertising?

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1948

This is the earliest example I could find of a PBR celebrity endorsement, and frankly I’m quite impressed. It is a departure from the quirkiness of the ads which immediately preceeded it. Basically this ad is saying, “Bob Hope drinks Pabst, so should you”. Instant credibility, elite product status – an advertising home run. A bit of a revisit to advertising PBR as a status symbol, but now with a face that America recognized. You don’t see ads like this very often anymore, especially for beer.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1950

And next we have the pro athlete endorsement. Tommy “Old Reliable” Henrich (5x AllStar, 4x World Champion) became the face of Pabst for a brief stint. The not-so-subliminal message here is that Pabst is the beer for champions, or if you drink Pabst you’ll be a little bit like this world class athlete. Recently there has been a lot of backlash by advocacy groups about why athletes should not endorse alcohol related products because kids are known to emulate their idols, which in many cases are pro athletes. I think this ad is classily done, in that Henrich is picture at home, relaxing with a friend and not on the field with a bottle in his back glove pocket. I mean, shouldn’t a guy be able to enjoy a beer or two at home? Interesting side note: Henrich is the last surviving member of the 1938 World Champion New York Yankees – maybe Pabst does have some nutritional qualities? (see the 1900 advert above)

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1954

By 1954, the post-war, happy homemaker era had arrived. Wives were having kids, planning dinner parties and preparing meals. But most of all, women were doing the shopping. So, what better way to sell more beer than to appeal to the person who bought beer for the family? This ad is great because it aims to show that Pabst is not only a beer to be enjoyed for its taste and relaxing effects, but that it is a great compliment to a dinner party. It is interesting that, at the end of the ad, it is suggested that Pabst is perfect as a thirst- quencher at bedtime. I guess to each his own.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1958

Following the trend of the 1958 advertisement, this ad included both a male and a female. America was changing, feminism was now gaining momentum. So, while previously it was advertised that men should drink this beer after a hard day’s work or during a fishing trip with the boys, or couples during a dinner party – now Pabst was saying that any person of any gender can enjoy the drink just because.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad – 1963

The abolition of segregation in America was just enforced, The Civil Rights Act was just around the corner and the political and civil tides in the US were changing dramatically. Pabst was seemingly quick to understand this and published what I believe is one of the first interracial beer advertisements. It is interesting to see the angle that is taken on this ad, especially when compared to that of 1938. This is effective advertising, in that the company for the first time was appealing to a much larger demogrphic – the entire country, as opposed to just the white population.

The brand went was basically underground during the 80’s and 90’s, as the business struggled in competition with major breweries like Miller and Coors, and somehow, they re-emerged through no effort of their own, around 2002. An unlikely demographic, urban hipsters had latched on to the iconic old style cans and the low price. Beginning in Portland, OR, “PBR” became a regular fixture on tap at bars for $2 per pint. This resurgence has continued, and Pabst is enjoying some of the greatest popularity of its rich company history. Interestingly, Pabst has rejected an ad campaign pandering to this new market, as they believe that embracing this tongue-in-cheek popularity will illegitimize the old school authenticity that brought it on. Hopefully this decision to stay true to its origins will ensure that Pabst remains a classic beer that can be enjoyed by fishermen and scenesters alike for years to come.

Now enjoy a beautifully relevant scene from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet that has played no small part in the cult following that the beer now enjoys:

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