Old Style, Part II- Doing It On The Cheap
Posted by Bob Skilnik on January 21, 2009
This ressurection of the Old Style brand is actually a second (maybe third) attempt to reinvigorate the brand.
I received a telephone call a few years ago, asking if I could put together 2 focus groups – one of former Old Style drinkers/one of current OS drinkers. The ad agency that hired me was from San Francisco so it seemed doomed from the beginning, with a West Coast agency running this, unfamiliar with the Chicago beer drinker. I had just written Volume II of my Chicago beer book and had done an extensive detailing of the rise and fall of the brand in the Chicagoland area. This was probably in 2002 since the brand was celebrating its 100th birthday.
We assembled in a small North Side neighborhood bar with Chicago Pabst distributors and the West Coast ad men, with about 40 beer drinkers. Everyone gave testimony as to why or why they didn’t drink the beer from “God’s Country.” The next day, I was filmed while I received the 3rd degree from the ad men and the distributors about the rise and fall of the brand. The problem, as everyone saw it, was that the biggest OS-drinking bar was Wrigley Field and once everyone walked out on a Cub’s game, they went back to drinking their “regular” beer. Why?
Well, we had a lot of good ideas, but when someone mentioned the word “money,” you could see the eyes of the distributors roll back into their heads – a Pabst philosophy…do it on the cheap.
Some ideas we had were
* Neighborhood 16-inch softball sponsorships, followed by any other sport since A-B had the pro game events locked up. The distributors were whipped on this, claiming that they didn’t have a chance since A-B and Miller had Chicago sports covered, even at the neighborhood level. The only money spent on Chicago sports was/is for the Cubs, although in actuality, Budweiser is really the #1 sponsor (The Official Sponsor) of the Cubs; Old Style is just a sponsor, although they make a lot of noise about their sponsorship while A-B doesn’t have to.
* Return to kraeusening of the beer.
* Start brewing the beer back at City Brewery in LaCrosse since it seemed so odd to see the beer being brewed in Milwaukee.
* Going back to retro advertsising.
* Just advertise, period. The entire ad budget seemed to be wrapped around the Cubs.
For awhile, they did return the brewing to LaCrosse but never made a big deal about it and it quietly went back to Milwaukee to be brewed. Kraeusening the beer and making a bit of a media fuss about it seems to be their second chance in reawakening the beer brand and getting some press about it. It’s going to be difficult, it not down right impossible, to raise the price from its “popular-priced” category (read: cheap) to a sub-premium price. They’re going to have to do more to convince the customer of higher attributes in the beer than just adding some new beer with active yeasts into the fermented batch. Sure, it “scrubs” the beer somewhat and drags out some of the off taste and greenishness of the beer, but so what?
And that brings us back to what 40 former and current Old Style beer drinkers told the San Francisco ad men and the Chicagoland Pabst distributors;
Spend more money on the brand. Advertise in print, on the radio, even local TV. Sponsor local neighborhood sports events. Start making noise about the brand, its history, how important it once was in Chicago. Don’t say it’s “Chicago’s beer”; Make it Chicago’s Beer.
Oh, and did I mention? Spend more money on the brand!
Here’s a link to an article that was written about all of this. I can’t pull it up as a good link, just in the cache, so some words are color-indexed.
A much more extensive story about Old Style in Chicago can be read in BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago.