Pabst Brewing Company

views updated

Pabst Brewing Company

121 Interpark Blvd., Ste. 300
San Antonio, Texas 78216-1852
Telephone: (210) 226-0231
Fax: (210) 299-6807
Web site:



Rainier beer, a longtime staple in the Pacific Northwest, had, like many local beer brands in America, seen its fortunes decline substantially in the 1970s and 1980s as giant national brewers flattened smaller competitors. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, a new niche-marketing trend emerged in the beer industry. A number of local and national blue-collar beer brands found a new consumer base among authenticity-seeking young people. Rainier owner Pabst Brewing Company enlisted Seattle agency Cole & Weber/Red Cell to craft a 2004 campaign thus reestablishing the brand among young people in its regional market.

"Remember Rainier," with a campaign budget of a mere $400,000, made direct use of Rainier's heritage in the Northwest while pushing brand awareness in unorthodox ways. The re-airing of vintage Rainier commercials from the 1970s and 1980s was embedded within a larger fictional framework developed in an 11-episode series of 30-minute comic talk shows called RainierVision. The shows, featuring a pair of fictional Rainier fanatics (Tim and Chuck), ran Sundays at 1 a.m. on the Seattle affiliate of a major cable network. Supplementary online campaign material worked to further fill in the larger Rainier storyline while also providing product information, and guerilla-marketing stunts featuring Tim and Chuck took the "Remember Rainier" story directly to Seattle residents. The campaign's buzz-generating power was further heightened by a bizarre turn of events involving a real black bear found passed out in a resort area after clawing his way into three dozen cans of Rainier.

The campaign helped Rainier to its first sales gains in nearly two decades, and it won numerous industry awards, including a Gold Clio and a Best of Show ADDY honor. Tim and Chuck were featured in a short film that premiered in 2005, and the integrated marketing effort continued to evolve.


The Rainier beer brand was first introduced to Pacific Northwest consumers in the 1880s, when the Sweeney Brewery in the Georgetown area of Seattle, Washington, opened for business. After a merger with two other local brewers, the company became the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company, and its leading product, Rainier, was popular across the West and in Alaska. Prohibition came to Washington state in 1916, four years before it was a federal mandate, and the Rainier brand was bought in the meantime by a California brewery. After the law's 1933 repeal Fritz Sick and his son Emil bought the rights to the Rainier name in the Northwest. The Sicks eventually took full control of the Rainier brand and enlarged the original Georgetown brewery, leading Rainier beer back to the top of the regional market. A giant red R perched atop the brewery became a Seattle landmark.

The 1970s and 1980s, however, saw the rise of megabreweries like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors, which pushed most local American beer makers out of business. Rainier survived but suffered consistent sales declines during these decades, despite a popular, offbeat TV advertising campaign that ran regionally in the 1970s and 1980s. The 1990s presented Rainier with yet another obstacle, as the trend toward craft and microbrewed beers, which was particularly pronounced in the Pacific Northwest, left little market space for low-priced, unassuming brands like Rainier. During these decades Rainier had been bought and sold by a succession of corporate parents, none of which could revive the brand.

In the late 1990s, though, marketers of Pabst Blue Ribbon (whose corporate parent, Pabst Brewing Company, became Rainier's owner in 2000) noticed that sales of its similarly outdated classic brand had begun picking up among authenticity-seeking young people. Other national brands with a similar down-market profile, like Miller High Life, also experienced a measured resurgence after being adopted by urban hipsters who valued the beer's simple and straightforward image. The trend seemed at least partly a backlash as well, not only against mainstream beers and their blockbuster marketing campaigns but also against the high prices and pretensions of microbrews.


Rainier was thus naturally positioned, among consumers in the Northwest, as an alternative to these two groups of competitors, and its history in the region served as its chief marketable attribute. By asking beer drinkers in and around Seattle to "Remember Rainier," Cole & Weber's creative team was establishing the brand's authenticity and appealing to consumers' nostalgia in ways specific to the region. Neither mainstream brands nor micro-brews could compete with Rainier on these terms.

Rainier's successful relaunch depended, like the sustained success of most alcohol products, on winning the loyalty of young men aged 21 to 34. Though men in this age group obviously had not been Rainier drinkers in the 1970s and 1980s, Cole & Weber expected many of them to recall family members drinking Rainier and to remember the zany Rainier TV commercials that ran during those decades. The old commercials, which Cole & Weber re-aired as a key component of the new campaign, capitalized on widespread nostalgia for the Pacific Northwest of yesteryear, as contrasted with a new, gentrified Northwest of upscale coffee shops and computer-industry professionals. The RainierVision series of TV shows, meanwhile, took the campaign beyond the simple rehashing of retro commercials. By embedding the commercials within the larger storyline of a Rainier-centric talk show hosted by two young, over-the-top brand loyalists, Cole & Weber was able to leaven the overt appeal to nostalgia with ironic humor suitable to the target market's sensibilities. The "Remember Rainier" website further tied the effort together, while partnerships with Seattle bars and the circulation around town of a pickup truck towing the locally famous red R further spread brand awareness, in unique and unpredictable ways, among the local target.


Rainier was part of the so-called subpremium category, which comprised beers costing less than mainstream brands like Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. The surprising resurgence of several beers in this category in recent years had created a new marketing niche, in which seemingly out-of-date products like Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and blue-collar local beers similar to Rainier found themselves able to capitalize on the perception that they were more authentic than mainstream beers, whose success seemed largely fueled by slick, expensive ad campaigns. As these newly desirable brands began trying to spread their individual messages of authenticity, however, they had to take pains to avoid marketing styles that would call that authenticity into question.


Though the "Remember Rainier" campaign was a direct appeal to nostalgia surrounding the brand's Seattle roots and Northwest heritage, Rainier was no longer brewed in or near Seattle. It was, in fact, brewed by Miller Brewing (owned by SABMiller plc), one of the corporate giants from which Rainier was attempting to differentiate itself by rebuilding a homegrown image. Miller brewed most of the beers for Rainier's owner, Pabst Brewing Company, which had become a holding company rather than a brewer—an owner of various beer brands but a brewer of none. Pabst, closely associated with its hometown of Milwaukee, had in 1996 moved its company headquarters to San Antonio, Texas.

In 1998, after seeing modestly encouraging sales spikes in isolated markets, Miller High Life unveiled its first national TV campaign since the mid-1980s. Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, the High Life campaign successfully delivered the same message for many years: America was suffering an epidemic shortage of masculinity, and it was up to those select few diehards, the "High Life men," to reinvigorate the country. Intentionally over-the-top without ridiculing the High Life men, the campaign managed to appeal simultaneously to young hipsters and Miller High Life's long-established blue-collar market. The campaign won many awards and was credited with significantly raising the profile of a nearly defunct brand.

Pabst Blue Ribbon (a corporate sibling of Rainier's) had, like High Life, the aura of an unpretentious, work-ingman's beer and had similarly fallen on hard times in recent decades. When PBR executives noticed inexplicable sales spikes in the Portland, Oregon, area in the 1990s, they investigated the phenomenon and came to the surprising discovery that, unaided by any advertising, an urban subculture of bicycle messengers and their peers had become champions of the PBR brand. Seeing an opportunity for a PBR comeback but recognizing that traditional marketing tactics might alienate a young audience craving the authentic aura surrounding the brand, PBR's marketers dispatched on-the-ground brand representatives to selected urban markets. These people were charged with building buzz about the brand in ways that were unobtrusive; therefore they spent time appearing simply to hang out in locales frequented by its young, antiestablishment target.

Rheingold beer, a regional brand sold primarily in New York City, was not, for geographic reasons, a competitor with Rainier at this time, but it was in the midst of a resurgence thanks to a marketing strategy strikingly similar to Rainier's. Having noticed a desire for simple, authentic products among hip, downtown New Yorkers, and having further observed that there was no New York-centric beer that satisfied such a product profile, a group of investors relaunched Rheingold, which was once New York's most popular beer, to fill this niche and, ultimately, to reclaim its spot at the top of the city's beer market. Utilizing the same miniscule budget as Rainier ($400,000), and mindful of its target audience's aversion to mainstream marketing, Rheingold staged an unconventional guerilla marketing effort combining in-bar promotions with cryptic billboard placements and the revival of the Miss Rheingold beauty pageant, which had been extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s.


Given the $400,000 budget available for advertising, Cole & Weber by necessity had to stage an unconventional campaign for Rainier. The fact that Rainier's biggest asset was its regional heritage dovetailed with the limited budget, as the re-airing of old advertisements proved an economical way of pitching the "Remember Rainier" message. The old ads themselves, created by Seattle agency Heckler and Bowker in the 1970s and 1980s, proved suitable for contemporary tastes. Whereas Budweiser and Miller advertising of that era focused on sincere appeals to hard work, Rainier ran ads that relied on humor and quirky premises. In "Motorcycle" a biker voiced the words "Rainier beer" in a way that mimicked the simultaneous revving and gear-shifting sounds of his motorcycle's engine as he accelerated on an open highway. In "Crossing" a family on a rural road slowed down at a "Beer Crossing" sign; their caution was rewarded with the sighting of two giant bottles and a can of Rainier walking across the road.

Cole & Weber felt that the re-aired ads alone, however, would not be enough to reignite Northwesterners' interest in Rainier. "We needed something bigger," the agency's executive creative director Guy Seese told Creativity. "We needed a talk show." The talk-show idea became RainierVision, an 11-episode series of half-hour talk shows devoted to the beer. Hosted by Tim and Chuck, two fictional Rainier-obsessed, 20-something Seattle residents, and modeled after Wayne's World (the Saturday Night Live spoof of a public-access cable show that became a successful movie), RainierVision ran Sundays on a local UPN affiliate at 1 a.m. Taking as its premise the idea that Tim had come across videotapes of old Rainier commercials in a thrift shop and decided, with Chuck, that the world needed to see them, the talk show integrated the vintage spots with sketch-comedy adventures featuring recurring characters and Rainier-related ephemera.

The cross-platform integration of the "Remember Rainier" campaign did not stop with RainierVision, however. A website,, further established the overarching story behind Tim and Chuck's television mission, while filling in gaps in viewers' knowledge of the show's content and providing other campaign- and product-related information. Additionally, as Tim and Chuck became known commodities in Seattle, the actors who played them were dispatched to selected bars in the city, where, in character, they further spread the word about their passion for Rainier. They also drove a pickup around Seattle, towing the giant red-neon letter R, a mock-up of the one that had stood on top of the Rainier Brewery and been a Seattle landmark in decades past.

As RainierVision ran a freak occurrence that made local headlines gave the campaign an unexpected boost. A two-year-old black bear, having wandered into a campground at the Baker Lake Resort area in Washington state, was found unconscious next to a group of 36 empty Rainier beer cans, which he had clawed open and consumed. Further investigation by wildlife agents revealed, moreover, that the bear had first raided a stash of Busch beer but had drunk only two before moving on to the brand that was presumably better suited to his palate. The astounding event was given a further marketing-friendly twist when the wildlife agents attempted to capture the bear, which had returned to the campground after his initial binge, by using a trap set with doughnuts, honey, and two open cans of Rainier. A delighted Cole & Weber immediately incorporated the incident into the campaign, first by running an online contest to name their new "spokesanimal" (the winning name was Brewtus) and then by incorporating a beer-drinking, bear-suit-wearing character into four original 30-second spots that also featured Tim and Chuck.


"Remember Rainier" was credited with spurring the brand's first sales gains in 17 years, at a time when the beer market overall was flat. The campaign was likewise a big winner on the 2005 advertising-industry awards circuit. It won a Gold Clio, a Gold ADDY, and the ADDY Best of Show award, and it was a Gold winner at the New York Art Directors Club awards. It was named the Yahoo! Big Idea Chair winner, and it won the Grand Prize at the first annual ANA/AICP Battle of the Brands event, besting much larger contest entrants like Burger King, Sega, and ESPN.

The success of "Remember Rainier" led to the continuation of Tim and Chuck's adventures in 2005. The Rainier fanatics were featured in a short film that included many of the recurring characters from the previous year's RainierVision shows, and new episodes of RainierVision entered production. The cross-platform nature of the campaign remained in place, as the online, film, TV, and print executions all worked together as parts of an integrated Rainier storyline.


Anderson, Mae. "Guy Seese on the Spot." Adweek, May 30, 2005.

―――――――. "Strange Brew." Adweek, July 25, 2005.

Cuneo, Alice Z. "Brands Battle." Advertising Age, February 21, 2005.

Dougherty, Sheila. "Rainier Beer: Operation Liberation." Advertising Age, July 18, 2005.

Goldrich, Robert. "Rainier Beer Tops ANA/AICP Battle of the Brands." Shoot, February 25, 2005.

"Guy Seese, Executive Creative Director, Cole & Weber/Red Cell." Creativity, August 2005.

Kaplan, Andrew. "What's Old Is New Again." Beverage World, October 15, 2004.

Nudd, Tim. "Rainier's Party Animal." Adweek, August 23, 2004.

"Rainier Fires Retro Rockets." Creativity, June 2004.

Wilcha, Kristin. "Winning Ways." Shoot, June 10, 2005.

                                            Mark Lane