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April 20, 2009


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Scott Clark

What's perplexing is that the GD phenomenon is so proven yet few bothered to emulate it, thinking, I suppose that it was a "fluke" of some sort ("a bunch of hippies with nothing else to do".) The same attitude is prevalent in business (at least in my SMM work.) In presentations I may refer to ideas from other companies or hand them a copy of your book (or Groundswell) they still often think "well, that was the exception" or "yeah, that works for ____ but they have techies for customers."

Even with the Dead's sweet tunes all over, it's a real challenge getting people to listen to the music!

Bob Williams

Compelling post David. While most try to build boundaries and walls to protect their product and content, a few dare to share. Look at the rewards for those who embrace their customers rather than making them jump through hoops. That's true customer focus!

Richard Reeve

I've always been intrigued by the spin off culture that emerges in the parking lots and sidewalks around the band on the road. Again, while local zoning might have issue with what unfolds...the band let's it happen.

Something in their posture simply fosters creativity and a grass roots entrepreneurial spirit...they know how to loose control, effectively...


Very interesting read. There are still 'jam bands' that tour with regularity, allowing taping and photos, but no one has done it like the GD did it. The closest two bands embracing this that I know of are Phish and Widespread Panic. I wish they could take us back to the days of sending in 'orders' for tickets directly to the band, instead of having to go through ticketing services. I have fond memories of decorating the envelopes so they would get 'noticed' and I would get a ticket. Seems like yesterday...

David Meerman Scott

Richard - I met a Worcester policeman at the "parking lot scene" last night. He couldn't have been nicer.

Now we're talking a parking lot where thousands of people are selling all kinds of wares in open, drinking is everywhere, there are clouds of sweet smelling smoke swirling around...

He said: "It's illegal to have alcohol in open canisters, it's illegal to sell on the street without a permit, and drugs are illegal. But what am I gonna do? Arrest everyone?"

Jay Blakesberg

Hey David,

Thanks for the mention. I wish I had known you were going to be worcester. I would have come by and said Hi.


Jay Blakesberg
tour photographer - The Dead


Damn fine post and the stuff marketing legends are made of.

Could you do a video, an audio and a t-shirt of the post for me ;-)

Seriously, how can you not love the way they maximize their interaction with their fans and their fans pocketbooks.

The Divine Miss White

Good point re. your passionate fans. If they know they are appreciated they will do anything for you.


Grate post David!

I'm always impressed by bands that open up their music. I've been to too many concerts where photos or recording weren't allowed and I've always felt slightly ripped off thinking I missed being able to have a photo or something that would allow me to remember the event.

Mark Sherrick

The Grateful Dead realized that people were going to do things that were beyond their control. Rather than stifle their community, they let it grow and support itself and evolve. The kid selling tie dyes in 1972 is probably a marketing officer at some huge corporation right now, using those same ideas to influence his business today. Were the Dead the first to do it? No, but they were and are among the most successful at doing it.

It just goes to show, you gotta step out of the box now and again.

Rhishja Larson

Hi David -

Love this post!

Hmm, maybe I'll write off the cost of my Shoreline tickets as "higher education." :)

(Just ordered 2 more of your books - can't wait to read them!!)

David Meerman Scott

Rhishia, Good idea. I suspect I may write off my Dead tickets...

Carl Ribaudo

I too have long studied their marketing success and have even used them as a case study in graduate marketing classes I have taught.

One interesting note, way before anyone else ever thought of it was the development of their database which was first used to sell tickets and later tickets and merchandising.

My four key elemnets to their marketing success:

1. Brand differentiation- no one had similar graphics and music.
2. Taper sections for mass distribution.
3. Focus on the shows vs. albums so as to provide a unique experience which we have all enjoyed.
4. The Database.


Everything revolves around their respect for the fan (customer)and of course their innovative moves.
Their innovations could have been copied by others but were not. That is a reflection of how stultified the industry was (or is?).

Scott Brewitt

I've written several papers on Dead marketing; was at the Worc. shows and interested to see new DSO guitarist at Radio City. [Ironically, old roommate is Phish keyboard player]

The Dead allowed people to be 'part of the whole show' rather than being 'marketed to.' Initially, they let people tapes the show because 'music was free. You can't bottle it and say, This is mine.' [B.Weir] The true marketing genius behind the Dead was its palpable authenticity. Jerry said he did not appear at the Hall of Fame Awards show because; "I wasn't in this to compete for anything." Of course there is speculation whether he could appear but the point is the same.

David Meerman Scott

Thanks for your perspective Scott. Are your papers available online?

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