The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum

The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Miller High Life is the new Pabst Blue Ribbon

A friend of mine recently observed that bars in big cities tend to abundantly stock one cheap, yet generally agreeable beer.  He generically calls this beer the "hipster beer," as it's popularity is seemingly fueled by self conscious trendsters who drink it out of some sense of irony or a search for "authenticity."  Usually these beers are old standbys that your grandfather along with generations of blue collar workers enjoyed.

In recent years, the hipster brau of choice has been Pabst Blue Ribbon.  PBR is a legacy brand which languished for decades after reaching a zenith of popularity in the 1970s.  The brew started to enjoy an unlikely resurgence in the early 2000's, due mainly in part to it's image as a cheap, honest drink.  Support for the brand spread via word of mouth, rather than slick marketing campaigns.  In fact, PBR spent under half a million dollars in advertising in those days, compared to the tens of millions dropped by the big boys.

Back in November, a blog run by Chicago's NBC affiliate noted the sharp increase in PBR sales is pushing the beer into the mainstream.  He predicted that hipsters might have to find some other ironic, downscale suds to enjoy.  A likely candidate for the new "hipster beer" is Miller High Life.

High Life is another legacy brand formerly enjoyed by millions and known as the "champagne of beers."  The label was considered premium around 50 years ago, but most of the bloom has come off the rose.  But in response to the success of PBR, High Life and other downscale labels are boosting their advertising budgets, as reported by Crain's Business.  In fact, many of these other labels, including High Life and Natural Light are actually cheaper than PBR, despite the low rent image that the Blue Ribbon boys have encouraged.

Based on my recent forays into questionable dives, I can confirm that High Life is taking hold.  All of my favorite cheap bars now stock the brand and aggressively push it via in-bar posters and other ads.  But whereas PBR is the product of a small potatoes brewery, High Life comes from Miller, one of the biggest brands out there.  Which means slick advertising instead of a word of mouth campaign.  They have really stepped up their ad buys in recent years, from a mawkishly sentimental TV spot narrated from the perspective of "The Girl in the Moon" who graces their label, to hilarious ads which feature a delivery man who literally reclaims bottles of High Life for the masses.

Of course in the end, all that matters is taste.  If co-option by hipsters means that there will always be a cheap and tasty beer available at a bar near me, I'm all for it.  Though "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer" will always bring a tear to my eye.

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