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A Peace On Poster Design: Take a Marketing Cue From Woodstock a Half-Century Later

A Peace On Poster Design
Posted in Advertising Comments

So August 15, 2019, has come and gone, and the purple haze of nostalgia has lifted. If Woodstock’s 50th-anniversary concert had happened, people would’ve long since taken their peace and love back home in their crossover SUVs -- the modern equivalent to the VW Bus -- and proceeded with their digital lives.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Woodstock, not that I was there, but because I just happened to be born on the generation-defining festival’s first day. There’s always been a running joke that my dad gave up seeing The Who, Jimi, CCR, and all the other acts, thanks to me. I’m sure there were a few moments in my teenage years when he wished he had gone to Upstate New York that day, instead.

Anyway, as both Woodstock and I celebrate our shared milestone, I can’t help but take a deep dive into the hippie pool and immerse myself in the music, art, and muddy, unshowered vibes. While looking at the original festival poster recently, a question came to mind that should resonate with casino operators -- by the time they got to Woodstock, how the heck were they half a million strong? The answer speaks to some inherent truths about marketing, whether for a three-day music fest or the modern casino industry.

An Authentic, Grassroots Effort

To answer my question, I read about the months leading up to the event, watched a few documentaries, and came across some pretty amazing facts that, together, compelled over 400,000 people to trek to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm. Keep in mind, this was well before the days of social media and smartphones -- or the internet for that matter.

It only took a handful of masterminds to create and promote the festival we still remember and celebrate today. Without the far reach of Twitter, Facebook, or 500 TV channels speaking to every imaginable audience segment, that small team had to take a far more organic approach to promote Woodstock, one that would ultimately hinge on two core ideas.

Authenticity

The event had to seem authentic to the ideals so integral to the times. While financiers backed Woodstock with their deep pockets, any hint of Wall Street and the like would’ve meant immediate doom for the festival. In fact, organizers spoke and listened to the very youngsters they targeted for their audience, heeding their contempt for big business and commercialism.

As a result, and as Woodstock’s poster embodies, the music almost became a secondary focal point for promotion. Instead, they emphasized the peace & love ideals that were -- and are -- synonymous with those times. Yes, the thought of seeing Roger Daltrey swing his mic or Janis Joplin bleeding emotion through hers was essential, but it would’ve been all for naught if Woodstock was more commercial than culture.

Go to the People

Likewise, Woodstock’s team also had to figure out where and how to speak to the target audience. Naturally, full-page ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Life magazine weren’t going to cut it, and would probably do far more harm than good. To promote the event, organizers had to speak to the young audience through the channels they trusted and routinely used.

That’s where the Village Voice, a not yet two-year-old Rolling Stone magazine, and other alternative publications entered the fray. The audience trusted those publications and, thanks to that trust and sense of authenticity, word-of-mouth quickly kicked in. Ignited by what were deemed counter-culture resources and propelled by a grassroots effort, Woodstock became the event history now embraces as a seminal moment. And as I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, casino operators stand to benefit a lot by following the Woodstock team’s lead.

Marketing Lessons Learned From 3 Days of Peace & Music

Although I’m not advising casinos to prioritize the lucrative hippie demographic, Woodstock has provided organizations and industries -- casinos obviously included -- some sage guidance that continues to be relevant, even in this digitized marketplace.

Less Is More With Creative

Take a look at Woodstock’s poster again. Actually, you can probably just picture it in your mind given its iconic, occasionally ubiquitous status. It isn’t terribly busy and doesn’t try to squeeze a visual or copy into every square inch. Most importantly, however, with a guitar, a bird, and a distinctive font, the poster captures an ideal voice and tone that still echoes a half-century later, all while remaining pretty simple and straightforward.

Zooming in on the poster, the designer deliberately made the central message and promise of "3 days of peace & music" larger and in white to balance the “dove” design element in the top left. While the performer lineup was obviously impressive and would’ve sold quite a few tickets on its own, people already knew the performers and could go to a concert anytime. Woodstock, however, sold a message that resonated with the audience -- the promise of peace and a truly unique, immersive experience. Organizers delivered on that promise as not a single violent incident was reported, despite the massive turnout.

The more prominent elements on the poster delivered that message and pulled the viewer in for a closer look and read all the necessary details. In other words, the illustrator and designers prioritized what they needed to convey. Too often, you see everything being made larger, competing for space which, more often than not, leaves a muddled design that says nothing. Once you’ve developed a message based on research, trust it, and hope that you’ll disrupt the clutter of competing advertising to have people take a closer look. On the Woodstock poster, there’s actually quite a bit of content, but printing in black over the read allowed the designer to pull the text back and emphasize the more important white design elements.

Simply put, less is more when it comes to creative. White space is a crucial visual element, allowing you to draw the eye to what’s essential without cluttering the layout and confusing the viewer. With every email and offer, we’re trying to tell a clear and concise story that captures the eye, holds attention and invokes a spirit. Just as that Woodstock poster typifies those times, we want your messaging to represent fun, excitement, and the thrills that only your casino can provide.

Leverage the Digital Environment

Your players live on their phones. From millennials to Baby Boomers, people now expect information to flow through their preferred digital channels, including email, Player Portals, apps, and more. Promoters were able to draw over 400,000 people to a non-descript area of Upstate New York by using the right channels. Casinos can be equally successful by leveraging the reach, convenience, and power of the digital environment.

Mind Your Brand, Develop Trust

Lastly, it’s critical to stay mindful of your brand and goals when communicating with your players. Your audience thrives on consistency and familiarity, where each helps develop emotional connections that breed trust. We wouldn’t be discussing Woodstock right now if its promotion veered from those counter-culture ideals. To that point, remain faithful to your brand, don’t make promises you can’t deliver, and foster trust in every message you send to your players.

Take a note from those half-million hippies, avoid the brown acid, and make your messaging memorable at every step.

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