Genuine Connection: The Genius Marketing of Woodstock 1969

Maybe you were a young person in 1969, brimming with fear and anxiety over any number of issues. 

The promoters of ‘69 Woodstock billed it as An Aquarian Experience: Three Days of Peace and Love. As a young person, maybe you saw these flyers and felt hope. If that didn’t get you, maybe you saw the location and imagined a getaway from the city, some peace for the tension. If that wasn’t enough, maybe the top-tier lineup of musicians playing sealed the deal. And if THAT wasn’t enough? Maybe the excitement of your friends pulled you out to that farm in Bethel, NY. 

Any marketer will tell you to set goals, and the four entrepreneurs behind Woodstock ‘69 were optimistic with theirs. John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang created Woodstock Ventures with success in mind. They were all 27 or under, with just two being involved in the music industry in some way, shape, or form. They mapped out their marketing strategy, had the best local and worldwide musicians in mind to play. With their hard work, a few ads, and word of mouth, they expected a turnout of 40,000. They wanted a turnout of around 200,000 and planned for that. 

What they received was 500,000 people in an age without social media. 

What they made was Woodstock 1969, a cultural phenomenon that even people born thirty years after can pinpoint. It might not have been the easiest music festival to pull off – they couldn’t find a venue that would stick until a month out. They had no time to put up ticket booths and fences, so they had to change it to a free festival on day one (no worries – they’d presold 100,000 tickets). They had problems left and right, but they faced them head-on and delivered on their promise of an experience of a lifetime. 

The original producers of the event still run a successful business based on their initial success. They took a three-day festival and turned it into a merchandising and documentary rights gold mine, and still make money from it in 2019! This year alone there are new books, documentaries, even a new social network planned. 


Was Woodstock ‘69 a Lightning in a Bottle Moment?


No. Woodstock ‘69 had something timeless, but the marketing components that worked the best were simple. 

So, why did it become the most successful festival of all time? Why is it remembered and celebrated? Last week marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock 1969. You remember it because of organic marketing and an experience like no other. 

The genius marketing strategy that created a muddy, massive success was human connection. Today, technology seems like the only way to feel genuine connection. Woodstock ‘69 proved that connection can be felt even without a screen, and that authenticity matters most.

So what created such a cultural phenomenon? Woodstock Ventures knew their audience, believed in their idea, were exciting and original. Most of all, they cared about the connection they were making for their attendees.


KNOW Your Audience

Woodstock had an insane lineup. 

There were 32 musicians booked, both local and worldwide talents. Some notable names: Jimi Hendrix, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane. The list goes on, and the mix of popular musicians, random blessings from yoga gurus, and more created a unique feeling of otherworldliness.

They booked these big names with an outcome in mind. One of the entrepreneurs that planned the event had this to say: “The only way we booked bands was to pay them much more than they’d ever been paid before.”

They planned ahead so much that they garnered a deal with Warner Bros for a documentary, and document they did.  


BELIEVE in Your Idea

The media hated the festival. 

There will be many who won’t believe in your voice. The attendees of the Woodstock festival were having such a good time that they drowned out the negative press, authentically connecting with friends and family. There were lines around the phone booths, and they were back up 24/7. People wanted to talk about what was happening, and they had good news to share. 

The swell of love and appreciation from the attendees couldn’t be ignored, and the attitude of the media started to match the attitude of those attendees. They’d lined up around phone booths just to keep spreading the word, and they were already at the festival! That’s a review you can’t deny, and it’s a belief that stands the test of time. 

Woodstock believed in itself, put in hard work, and a great show. The audience believed in it right back, and they made sure everyone they knew did as well. 


Be Exciting

Attendees of Woodstock ‘69 admitted that they’d heard how hard it was to get into the festival. Some admitted that they’d heard how hard it was to even get to the darn thing. One told the New York Times simply: “The whole thing is a gas. I dig it all, the mud, the rain, the music, the hassles.”

The issues that plagued Woodstock would eventually become selling points for attendees. Cars back up on the highway so badly that you have to get out and walk? Legendary! Bad weather that created mud on the farm, getting all over clothes and hair and supplies? Natural! The farm owner threatening to douse attendees that got out of hand? Interesting!

Woodstock made people feel like they were achieving a goal by even getting in. It wasn’t only an experience, it was an adventure, and there was always a positive spin to put on the problems. 


Be Original

The festival Organizers thought ahead in just about every area you might need to when you’re inviting 200,000 people to a farm. These things helped to make the festival a success. They prepared for everything from drug overdoses to empty stomachs. Free meals were promised not via flyer or ad, but by word of mouth, letting it spread organically like everything else.

So how do you channel Woodstock’s originality, unerasable love, and word of mouth? A quote from one of the original promoters, Joel Rosenman, hits the nail on the head: 

“We had an event that challenged people’s concept of community, and they responded to that challenge over that weekend by essentially re-creating a society that was in danger of falling apart. That’s a pretty strong beacon, and I guess that beacon continues to shine on some of the darker moments in subsequent years.”


CARE about Connection

The organizers wanted an authentic experience. It didn’t go according to plan, but their flyers and short ad spread around the world. They wanted an escape, somewhere people could go and listen to great music. They wanted to put together a music festival that connected folks their age, or any age, in a time of war and uncertainty. 

What the original Woodstock had was deeper than just good marketing sense. It was a festival made of a love for its attendees, and that is what lives on. 

And today, you have something more powerful than even they had to spread that love. You have the glory of the internet. You have viral marketing, or what I’d like to call Word of Mouth 2.0. You have hashtags and headlines. And you have the power of social media to assist you in your journey. Today, we’re all a little uncertain, and we’re all in need of peace and love. Maybe you’ll be the next one to give us a reason to put everything down and hop in the mud.


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