What began as a joke between two buddies in the advertising biz is rapidly snowballing into reality: an attempt to purchase the Pabst Brewing Company via crowdsourcing. And let’s be clear here: What’s “real” about this is the attempt, not the actual purchase. Pledges of about $120 million toward the company’s asking price of $300 million have been made at buyabeercompany.com since the guys’ respective ad agencies, Forza Migliozzi and the Ad Store, launched the site on November 10, 2009.

Michael Migliozzi (managing partner of Forza Migliozzi) learned about the sale of the company from a November 2 Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel article. Migliozzi then joked on Twitter: “Maybe we can crowdsource this? Pabst Brewing Co. up for sale. $300 Million. http://bit.ly/NUp8B (via @Beer_Info).” The Ad Store’s Brian Flatow’s response? “@ForzaMigliozzi I’m in on the PBR purchase. Now, where are we going to get the other $299,999,998?” A partnership was born.

No money has changed hands yet; the average pledge is about $27. Migliozzi isn’t sweating the details though. “We are approaching a point now where we will be contacting people, and start running it through a legal process,” says Migliozzi. “What will happen is people will then have to submit their pledge amounts, and they will receive legal documents saying they have legal ownership. … Now of course the FTC is probably going to have something to say.” Migliozzi’s goal is “as simple and honest of a transaction as possible. Whether it’s $5 or $1 million, you’ll get your beer, ownership, and a say.”

Still, it’s easy to wonder if this is one big scam. “The Interwebs are filled with crooks,” agrees Migliozzi. “We are not from Nigeria or wherever those lottery emails come from.”

And if they’re not thieves, are they ingenious viral marketers? “From a press standpoint,” says Migliozzi, “having folks ante up $5 does not benefit the agency. It was never designed to be a PR stunt; it was a real exercise in crowdsourcing.” He also assures that they are not “utilizing” the emails of pledgees for anything. Whether they will actually make it to the table with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which is handling the sale of Pabst, remains to be seen—when they reach about $175 million in pledges, Migliozzi says, they will make contact.

What’s also interesting is how much passion PBR fans are bringing to the table (theoretically $120 million worth), in light of the fact that, well, Pabst doesn’t even make its own beer anymore. “Pabst closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996 and shuttered its last remaining brewery in 2001 after hiring Miller, now known as MillerCoors LLC, to brew its brands,” noted Tom Daykin in the aforementioned Journal Sentinel article. “Because Pabst doesn’t own breweries, it mainly operates as a marketing company, crafting strategies for selling dozens of brands, which also include Old Milwaukee, Stroh’s and Heileman’s Old Style.” The sale of Pabst has been mandated by the IRS, which has given Pabst’s owner, the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation, a deadline of 2010 to sell the company, as charitable foundations aren’t allowed to own for-profit companies, says the Journal Sentinel.

But perhaps the hope of bringing the brands back to their hometowns is the real driving force here. “Can we bring Lone Star back to Texas? And Pabst to Milwaukee?” muses Migliozzi.

As it stands, since Pabst is a “virtual brewer” and doesn’t have physical assets such as a brewery, Migliozzi says, there’s some real due diligence ahead of them before an offer can be made—$300 million might prove to be more than Pabst is worth. “If we can get it for $225 million, why not?”

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