Pabst Brewing Company is opening a new brewery in Milwaukee, highlighting the Pabst Blue Ribbon maker’s rare success amid declining consumption of American beer. The new brewery will be located on the site of the company’s former brewery, which closed abruptly in 1996.

Eschewing the aggressive TV advertising of top brands like Budweiser and Heineken, PBR found success by employing a shrewd word-of-mouth marketing strategy. “PBR gradually became the cool beer to drink if you didn’t care about being cool,” wrote Ted Wright, who helped reinvent the brew at marketing agency Fizz. The scheme made it one of the fastest-growing beer companies in the U.S., with sales approaching 400 million liters last year. This represents half the sales of parent company Pabst Brewing, which recently sold for more than $700 million.

In addition to popularizing the drink among influential hipsters, PBR was one of the first beer brands to take advantage of Instagram. With more than 100,000 followers, PBR had the largest Instagram community in L2’s Digital IQ Index: Beer. @pabstblueribbon averaged 103 new followers per day in the past year, which represents annual growth of 60%.

PBR's sizeable engagement on Instagram

As Instagram grew to surpass Twitter in activity, major beer brands like Bud Light, Miller High Life and Coors Light created accounts on the social platform. However, the L2 study found that smaller brands with dedicated fan bases had far larger communities, and their posts got substantially more interactions. The 10 posts with the most interactions this year came from only two brands: PBR and Stone Brewing Co.

Staying true to the brand’s “no-marketing” image, @pabstblueribbon puts the spotlight on user-submitted photos, which consumers trust more than brand-generated content. The company also boosted site traffic by more than 100% in March with the ongoing PBR Art contest, which solicits PBR-themed fan art.

PBR's Instagram takes advantage of user-generated photos

By relying on photos by users rather than blatantly promotional content, PBR created a community where followers engage with the brand. As a result, PBR has nearly twice as many Instagram followers as Bud Light despite the fact that the latter paid for advertisements. As Instagram continues integrating advertisements with content, PBR’s success could give pause to beer brands hoping to dive into the social platform.

For more, download a copy of L2’s Digital IQ Index: Beer.

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