Sawtooth Preps Blue Ribbon Makeover

NEW YORK To mine its iconic image and attract a new generation of beer drinkers, Pabst Blue Ribbon has tapped The Sawtooth Group as its agency of record for media and creative tasks.

Sawtooth’s inaugural effort will unfold in U.S. test markets by May, marking the beer’s first major campaign in five years.

In selecting the independent Woodbridge, N.J.-based shop, 163-year-old Pabst reportedly passed on several large mainstream agencies.

Sawtooth wrested the competitive edge by having “fully immersed themselves in understanding our brand,” said Brad Hittle, CMO, Pabst Brewing, in a statement.

The agency’s strategy of meeting with 21- to 28-year-old male beer drinkers in and around New York bars enabled it to grasp the marketing likes and dislikes of the core consumer base, explained partner and creative director Kristi Bridges.

The portrait that emerged was of an “open-minded and unpretentious” community, she said, adding descriptions like “grass-roots cult following,” “organic” and “authentic.”

Such insights were especially important to Pabst, given that it “wanted to grow without alienating its loyal consumers,” as Bridges put it.

“If people like it because it’s non-pretentious, you have to be careful how you market it,” she said.

Though corporate parent Pabst Brewing lags behind domestic beer titans, its flagship brand is enjoying a revival among maverick consumers who shun the blitz marketing style of its competitors.

Pabst Blue Ribbon’s U.S. ad spend was a slim $500,000 last year, down $100,000 from 2005, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

“They have done very limited advertising in the past few years, so they’re pretty much starting with a clean slate for new drinkers, while continuing to be true to who they are and who their current drinkers think they are,” Bridges said.

“Pabst is a very recognizable brand that is historic but also modern,” she said.

Sawtooth is exploring a mix of print and outdoor, in addition to digital media platforms for its debut Pabst effort.

Other Sawtooth clients include McCormick & Co. and Hartz Mountain.