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8 Things Marketers Can Learn from Woodstock ’99

August 16, 2022

It was promoted as the revival of the 1969 Woodstock – it was advertised as ‘the Woodstock your parents had’ – it was meant to be three days of peace and music.

The reality was anything but peaceful.

With over 400,000 attendees (originally planned for 250,000), the festival was hosted on an old military base outside of New York – which was mostly made of tarmac and old metal hangers, This was the first corner cut – the cheaper option.

Tickets were pricey, at $150 dollars, the equivalent of almost $270 today – which, for broke teens, was a hefty price. The hope was that the cost of the ticket would include some discounts/freebies.

The first Woodstock in 1969 had free food, open kitchens for all. At the ’99 event it seemed nothing more than a display of capitalism and corporate greed. Nothing was free. The key things people needed– food and water – was overpriced with a bottle of water costing $4 - $10 by day three. The organisers tried to wring every-last cent out of the festival goers.

This became the biggest source of anger. As the temperature soared to over 40 degrees, heat radiating off the tarmac, the dehydration grew, demand grew and the vendors, who were unregulated, started charging even more for these items.

The other corners cut was the level of security and medical staff needed for an event of this size, lack of shade in the middle of July, proper sanitation services for clean drinking water and proper clean-up crew for litter, meaning that by day 2 of the festival people were living in something resembling “a refugee camp”.

By the third day, people had had enough –what ensued was violence, sexual assault, looting, vandalism, and fires.

So what can we learn?

1. Profit over Experience

Now, I am not suggesting that a poor user experience will result in your customers setting fire to your stores however, compromising on it can result in frustration building up over time. It can lead to bad reviews, the modern-day rebellion in the form of negative social posts. This will impact trust, brand loyalty and future profits.

2. Following through on brand promise

Festival goers were sold an experience – but the organisers didn’t follow through. Instead, they put people’s lives at risk, with many suffering heat exhaustion, and injuries from lack of proper security in place.

Often brands use creatives to spin off a ‘this is what we stand for’ strapline, a promise – but how many deliver this promise end to end? Does that ‘promise’ continue once your audience has converted?

3. Support customers at each stage

If the organisers had recognised needs, talked to the attendees, and listened they could have changed the experience.

Brands have that ability using a range of tools:

- Feedback

- Reviews

- Social listening

- Chat bots

- Level of returns

- Customer service

The brands that stand out are the ones that listen, that hear the needs, pain points, complaints and act up on them.

4. Responsible when demand changes

The increase in prices for food and drink when demand increased meant further anger and frustration – fuelling an already pumped-up audience.

Brands have a responsibility to not take advantage of increased demand with price changes – travel companies have a particularly poor reputation for this. It was pretty evident during the “normalisation” of holidays post lockdown with people needing to make money back meaning thousands couldn’t experience a holiday even in the UK with prices in some cases more than tripled.

5. Investing correctly

Could the organisers have avoided the event nicknamed ‘the festival that ended the 90’s’. Probably, if they hadn’t had rushed the planning, cut corners, saved cash on all the essential things, and looked after the young audience.

Marketing needs to be considered fully – investing in the right areas could make a significant difference. Brands who focus on the big sexy campaigns but fail to deliver a good experience on site/app will suffer.

6. Consistency of brand experience

The posters promoting the festival sold people on an experience. They knew it would be different from the ’69 Woodstock, with many rock bands scheduled to play. However, there were people as young as 15 buying tickets and so there was a responsibility to deliver consistency from messaging to experience.

More often than not, there is a lack of consistency in marketing execution – from tone of voice to creative and messaging. Integration is crucial between teams to ensure planning is in place.

7. Adapting to environment

If the heat became an issue – those in charge should have adapted. Vendors could have been monitored – slashing prices on water or giving some of the profits to allowing free water. Hangers could have been opened for shade.

If the pandemic taught us anything it was that the businesses that succeeded was the ones who adapted to the change. Business was born out of identifying opportunity in a change in environment – the ones that stood still and refused to budge didn’t survive.

8. Agile in response

At any point the organisers could have stepped in, when the structures were being torn down, when the first fire was lit, when the toilets were overflowing and mixing with drinking water. Yet in their press conferences after each day – they were blinkered and the response was ‘people are having a great time, seeing great bands’.

As marketers, if you see something isn’t working don’t be afraid to pause – reflect and react. At Honcho we very much believe in fluidity between channels – ensuring we are focussing our efforts in the right places to deliver the best result for users and for our clients. If we see something not working in any channel, we are agile enough to change it. Change the channel, change the approach, update the creative. The ones that do are the ones that will succeed!


The organisers of Woodstock ’99 did make a profit – but at what cost? Aside from the long-term impact on those that witnessed such violent acts - there will never be another Woodstock – so long-term profits have been compromised over short-term gain.

The main learning is plan for all possible predictable events, be prepared and agile enough to react to change, follow through on your promise and don’t put profit over experience. Otherwise, the fires will burn, and people will “break stuff” (Limp Bizkit on the main stage ’99)

Author: Rebecca Weeks, Head of Organic Performance, Honcho

Image reference/credit: https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/trainwreck-woodstock-99-release-date-trailer


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