Direct Response Copywriter on The Grateful Dead

You can talk about the music and the jamming and the set lists … and that’s all fun … but I’m going to look at The Grateful Dead as a shining example of the power of direct response marketing. I’m sure that if you asked the members of the band if they know anything about direct marketing they would reply, “what’s that?” but, by accident perhaps, they are seriously good practitioners.

As a direct response copywriter, I’m impressed.

Here are some marketing lessons you can take from the band.

Get started. The first concert took place in a pizza parlor in Menlo Park. Instead of faffing about, the band just got going. Big things start as small things. You can spend months planning. That’s a waste of time … just get going. Start.

Give away free stuff. For decades, you could get free bootleg tapes of shows. In fact, the band even encouraged this by providing taper seats where fans with high-tech equipment would record shows. Tapers taped tapes for friends and the whole thing went viral before anyone knew what 'viral' was. You would listen to a bootleg tape and get excited about the music and want to see the band live.

Anticipation from variety. The music aka “the product” was always changing and always fresh. No two shows were the same. This built a sense of anticipation and made it fun to follow the band.

Understanding the core business. The band made (and still makes) money from shows. Their records were not big sellers and they only had one top 40 hit. So they based the business model on big shows in big venues.

Selling happiness. For the fans, there’s little that’s more fun than a show.

Building a list. As soon as email marketing got going, the marketing arm successfully built an opt-in email database. To get people to sign up, they offered free music. My guess ... it's a big list.

You can get emails offering new products almost every week. That’s textbook direct marketing with copy written by a competent direct response copywriter.

Upsells. You can buy all sorts of curious merchandise on their website.

Scarcity. For the final ever shows, there were just 5 shows available. That’s scarcity.

The result? Five shows with around 70,000 paying around $100 for a ticket. That’s around $30 million before rights and adjunctive sales. I’m not sure I could write a book about The Grateful Dead and marketing but I could write a long article. I recommend everyone study how they built their business. You'll find it dead inspiring.


I'm a direct response copywriter. I write direct response copy for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here if you have a project you'd like me to quote. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.