While it may call Milwaukee home, Portland, Oregon is the city that helped rejuvenate the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand. 

And Pabst Brewing Co. is using sponsorship to say thanks. The brewer in 2014 launched Project Pabst, a music festival that featured performances by Modest Mouse, GZA and other acts curated by the brand.

Brand experiences at the Superfly-produced event included a pinball and video arcade (“PBRcade”), lawn games, and, of course, plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Project Pabst comes amid a time of change at Pabst Brewing Co. The company was acquired in November 2014 by Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings—a partnership between beer entrepreneur Eugene Kashper and TSG Consumer Partners, a San Francisco-based private equity firm.

Demonstrating its new owner’s support of Project Pabst, Pabst plans to expand the festival into a national platform in 2015.

IEG SR spoke with Matt Slessler, PBR national brand ambassador, about the thinking behind Project Pabst, how the company activates the festival, and other topics. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

On the thinking behind Project Pabst
Our customer base is heavily into music. We have worked with musicians over the years and many of our big on-premise accounts are music venues.

People embraced the way we curated the festival. People who don’t know PBR might try to pigeonhole it as a hipster brand. We wanted a festival that reflected our diverse taste—metal, hip hop and other genres.

We didn’t want Project Pabst to be an indie music festival. We wanted to treat it like a juke box at one of our bars at midnight.

On activating Project Pabst at retail
We created a special can that was unique to Project Pabst. The symbol for the festival is a unicorn, and we put a unicorn with the Oregon state seal on the can.

We produced 100,000 cases of the cans, which had a dramatic impact on our business. People grabbed them like a keepsake—I received a ton of email from people asking for one.

Our retail partners loved the can. Our display activity went up when we had the cans in market. We had huge 400-, 500- and 600-case displays at Safeway and Fred Meyer. They loved the idea and gave us prime floor space.

Retailers like text-to-win promotions, so we ran a promotion that offered a trip to the festival. We plan to expand the promotion this year.

On turning Project Pabst into a national marketing platform
Project Pabst is our Super Bowl. We don’t use traditional media, so the festival is the biggest thing we’ll do this year.

We want to expand it. We were pleasantly surprised where tickets were purchased. We had a lot of people from Oregon and Seattle, but we covered all 50 states with a lot of people from Chicago, Texas, California and New York.

On creating a festival versus sponsoring an existing event
The way these things traditionally work is you pay a sponsorship fee, but you don’t get a say on what bands you’d like to see. We wanted control over that. We know our customer well enough—we didn’t want to give someone money and have them curate it.

We want to speak directly to our customers, not just have someone hand over a beer.