Marketing Home Products with the Grateful Dead

Posted by Steve Kleber on Aug 11, 2010

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Lessons Learned from an Unforgettable Band

It’s not everyday that marketing efforts are deemed highly successful. Moreover, it’s not often that branding that breaks away from tradition is applauded.

Think about the corporate environment where using the wrong logo is frowned upon and letterhead is used for everything. Although conformational marketing has its merits, creativity is the key to getting any brand noticed. Can the two coexist? Of course! Creativity juxtaposes with strict corporate guidelines all the time. It’s the brands that think way outside of the box that only rarely see success. But when they do, the experience is more than memorable.

The Grateful Dead is one such brand with improvisation translating to more than just their music. From posters and newsletters to album covers and logos, the Grateful Dead did more to spruce up their brand than most, often changing their swag from album to album and even concert to concert. While others bands were sticking to a comfortable norm, the Grateful Dead’s nonchalant attitude and carefree approach to marketing shined, proving that spur-of-the-moment marketing can work.

As marketers, we have a few things to learn from the Dead. Chief among them? Letting go.

Have you ever worked at a place where the branding guide was bigger than a dictionary? Too often companies strictly manage the way logos and even specifically-coded hexadecimal company colors are used. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, but regulations do have the tendency to suppress creativity…leaving companies on the safe side.

Besides their music, unforgettable and interchangeable artwork is what the Grateful Dead is known for. Skulls, dancing bears, skeletons and roses adorned everything from T-shirts to posters, yet the difference was the way they were used. Variations created an excitement about the band that far exceeded anyone’s expectations – even the members themselves. Fans never knew what to expect, but could recognize the Grateful Dead’s branding from a mile away. Using the same elements in different ways put the Dead in a unique and cool place.

One of the best things the band did was to allow and even encourage fans to make bootleg recordings of live concerts. Because each recording provided a unique experience, society became curious, which lead to greater interest and ultimately higher ticket sales. This is similar to a phenomenon happening today: musicians are encouraging fans to download their music for free instead of buying it digitally or in stores because they understand that giving away the experience leads to more interest.

It’s no surprise that the Grateful Dead’s vibrant and colorful approach to marketing earned them a prominent place in American pop culture. Even after the band’s split in 1995, merchandise and records continue to sell like hotcakes. What can this teach you about your marketing? While still maintaining control over your brand, try welcoming new ideas to loosen it up. Add a new color to your log or let customers create videos reflecting their own personal experiences with your company.

Our agency, for example, is working on a “brand” new (get it?) look for our website as we speak. I’ve taken some hints from the Grateful Dead by incorporating slight differences in our logo, color choices and content on the new site…yet it stays true to who we are as marketers of home products and is still recognizable as the K&A brand.

I’d love to hear how others have enhanced their brand by “letting go.” I’m willing to bet a little creative leeway allowed your brand’s personality to sparkle.

This entry was posted by Steve Kleber on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 at 8:39 am and is filed under Brand Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.