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A Rainier wearing a headset and riding a Segway is “rescued” in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood to be returned to the wild. (Rainier, DNA Photo)

Before you pour another one out for all that’s been lost in Seattle, take a minute to appreciate a new advertising campaign from Rainier Beer, which offers a knowing nod to the iconic brand’s history while having fun with the tech-infused times we’re currently living in.

Long before Seattle became a leading tech hub, or a hotbed for the surge in craft beer, Rainier was entertaining locals with its classic ads, showing “wild Rainiers” roaming the Pacific Northwest. Famed personalities such as Mickey Rooney and Rick the Peanut Man tracked big bottles of beer trotting along on human legs.

It’s been many years since Rainier, founded in 1878, was brewed in the city, despite the fact that its famous red neon “R” still glows atop the old brewery just off Interstate 5. The beer is now made out of state by Pabst Brewing Co. But the creative energy behind Rainier has come home.

Rainier Beer still considers itself Seattle’s hometown brew, with a newer neon “R” atop the mixed-use brewery building in south Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In a fitting update for 2019, the wild bottles have been replaced by walking cans and the setting is decidedly more urban. In a bid to raise brand awareness, Rainier teamed with Seattle agency DNA with a storyline that centers on leaving the rat race and returning Rainiers to their natural habitat.

“We had pretty candid conversations on how we think things are going here in the Pacific Northwest, and just how intense it’s gotten with 250,000 people moving here, housing, traffic, etc.,” said Michael Scott, brand manager for Rainier. “It used to be a place where people really came to ‘work to live,’ if you will, not ‘live to work.’ It was a little more lighthearted. So that was kind of the cultural context that we had and we really thought people could use a little bit of levity, a little bit of a laugh.”

With titles such as “Sad-ercise,” “Bored Meeting,” and “Tech Bro,” the 30-second ads play off the notion that any self-respecting Rainier can, or those who drink from such, would much rather be spending time outside of the city than dealing with the grind of living and working within it. Tag lines include “CAMPFIRES not commutes,” “TRAILHEADS not treadmills,” and “MOUNTAINS not meetings.”

Red-suited Rainier workers are shown capturing the cans in modern-Seattle settings, tossing them in a van and driving them to a more natural new home.

“Whoa buddy, you’re free,” the can collector says in one ad as he removes a telephone headset from a now wild Rainier.

Steve Williams, executive creative director at DNA, said the challenge was to rekindle the magic for what he called “OG Northwesterns” who grew up with Rainier and the classic ads while also turning on a new segment of the population that is moving to Seattle and building a different place.

“So how do you write a chapter that speaks to both?” Williams said. “That’s where the 2019 version comes in where the Rainiers have gotten domesticated and taken jobs in tech and have maybe a little too much attachment to devices. [We] just tried to play with that in an obviously surreal way and tap that great visual magic that Rainier has always had with their ads.”

Embracing what makes Seattle Seattle is not new for DNA. The agency’s greatest claim to fame might be its work for Pemco Insurance and its Northwest Profiles campaign with the tagline, “We’re a lot like you. A little different.”

New work is also on the horizon for the Mexican fast-food chain Taco Time as well as Darigold, the longtime dairy farmer organization.

The Rainier campaign is predominantly digital, and ads will be shown in select movie theaters as well. They’ve also relied on social media and a big piece of the project was the launch of a new beer, Rainier Summit, that included a 5-day-long live stream to announce the product. A “nest cam” was set up to watch the new cans “hatch” — more of that “wild Rainier” spirt.

“Because we don’t have infinite budgets, we’re not going to be rolling deep on the Super Bowl and that kind of stuff,” Scott said. “We had to find interesting ways to punch above our weight.”

Even though it’s been years since Rainier was brewed in the city, Williams — a transplant himself — said the brand is synonymous with Seattle and the Northwest.

“I think there’s a badge to it,” he said. “I remember when I moved here from California, it felt like once you had a can of Rainier in your hand you got your local badge. Even if you’re kind of a craft [beer] head, it wasn’t an either-or thing, there’s room for both.”

And Scott, who has been promoting the brand in his job for four years, obviously agreed. While little breweries dot neighborhoods all over Seattle and certainly the Northwest, and seem to especially attract young tech workers, Scott said there is a healthy camaraderie between Rainier and craft brewers. Just two years ago, Rainier teamed with Ballard-based Reuben’s to create r&R Pils.

“We have been here for 140 years, the Pacific Northwest is definitely our home,” Scott said. “I love craft [beer] and Rainier as a brand plays really well with them. Are we in competition? Yeah, but it’s kind of friendly competition. Most of the craft brewers that I know drink Rainier while they’re brewing!

“The tech guys that do love craft also drink Rainier, because how many 7-percent IPAs are you going to drink before you need to downshift?” Scott added. “Similarly, all those tech guys have to get out from behind their screens now and again, and because they’re living in the Pac Northwest and we’re all outdoors lovers, I see them trying to integrate themselves into the community and overall vibe of the [region]. This campaign plays to both those things.”

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