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Woodstock Turns 50! 3 Lessons Marketers Can Take From That Moment In Music History

August 6, 2019 Sarah Cavill
WoodstockBy the time everyone got to Woodstock, they were half a million strong, to paraphrase Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s famous song about those historic three days of mud, music and mayhem in Upstate New York. August 15th, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and though the planned concert to celebrate the anniversary was cancelled, the anniversary is still an occasion to reflect on the lessons learned.

As a cultural touchpoint, Woodstock has few competitors. There have been other music festivals and gatherings of like-minded people, but few have held up like Woodstock. Though it was a messy three days and not without problems, Woodstock remains in American minds as a symbol of an era — one of the last blasts of peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll before the seventies were ushered in and hippies faded into the history books.

Major events – particularly those events that resonate with the cultural consciousness – can offer marketing truths and strategies with lasting, universal applications for campaigns and overall brand optimizations.

Expect The Best From Your Audience And You May Reap The Benefits         

Woodstock may not have been profitable for its organizers, but for an event with more than 500,000 people, and with little security and other support services on the ground, it was a huge success. There were very few incidences of illness or injury, and despite the rain, traffic jams and performer delays, Woodstock went on to be one of the most beloved events of the 20th century, embodying a movement of peace and kindness.

As marketers, you can’t always know the outcome of a campaign. If you believe in your audience and you’ve established brand loyalty from a core group, you should expect the best from that audience. Even when hiccups happen, and they will, if your brand stays true to its promise, customers are likely to still feel satisfied. Following up with engaged audiences and nurturing relationships is important. Use email to thank them for their business or participation and remind them of upcoming events, products or activations.

Be Prepared To Adapt When Necessary And Your Campaign May Exceed Expectations

Like other similar music festivals, Woodstock was supposed to be 50,000 paying concertgoers enjoying some great music for the weekend. This was not to be. The original venue backed out, leaving only a month for the four young men organizing the festival to build a proper facility at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm — the new location. By opening day, security and fencing was virtually non-existent, thousands and thousands of fans had already begun camping out and word had spread that the concert was free. The only option for organizers was to change course, open the venue to everyone and hope for the best.

Would Woodstock still be remembered and celebrated today if it had been a typical music festival? Maybe the musical acts, but those same entertainers were performing all over the country at the time and how many people regularly recall the Monterey Pop Festival? (FYI, the Monterey Pop Festival was the concert where Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar on stage.) The unexpected is what made Woodstock special and the organizers instinct to let it happen facilitated the magic. They had laid the groundwork – great musical acts and enough support services to offer some measure of organized chaos – so that when circumstances required changing course, what followed wasn’t a disaster, but proved to be a phenomenal cultural success.

A well-strategized marketing campaign should be the same. By creating a well-researched, data-supported campaign it is easier for marketers to change course if necessary and still reap the rewards.

A Classic Can Be Reimagined And Appeal To New Users

jimi hendrixJimi Hendrix was one of the biggest names to play Woodstock. He was already hugely popular around the country, both for his outspoken views against the Vietnam War and his guitar skills. As the headliner, Hendrix was scheduled to close the concert. However, because of rain and technical delays, Hendrix didn’t go on stage until Monday morning when only 25,000 concertgoers remained. Hendrix was not deterred. He went on to play one of the most infamous versions of The Star Spangled Banner ever recorded, throwing every bit of his guitar prowess at the hallowed anthem and setting it in the midst of a medley of his hits that lasted 30 minutes. Hendrix performed for two hours that morning, one of the longest shows of his career, but it was his take on the Star Spangled Banner that defined Woodstock.

Although it may not have been Hendrix’s intention to do so, he wasn’t afraid to reimagine a classic, and in the process, he created an anthem for his generation.

Fifty years later, Woodstock is still a prime example of brand building success. Though the concert lost money, the brand lived on through music, movies and memories. The team that brought us Woodstock – including Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman and John P. Roberts – reminded Americans that people are generally decent. Their belief in the goodness of the audience, willingness to let their performers be themselves and their broad-ranging adaptability resulted in a brand that has maintained a positive perception for half a century.

For current-day marketers, the lessons from Woodstock can be leveraged across all stages of consumer engagement, from go-to-market strategies through to nurturing campaigns. Brands that stay authentic, and support their fans doing the same, are likely to stand the test of time.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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