LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
(Soundbite of song, "Purple Haze")
Forty years ago, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was billed as three days of peace and music. Today it's being marketed as - well, let's just say it's being marketed. There's a crowded field of books and music releases, a new film, and even Target has offered Woodstock-themed merchandise. As reporter Joel Rose reports, the Woodstock brand has been a potent marketing force since the moment the music ended.
JOEL ROSE: Woodstock was always intended as a for-profit venture. Though, of course, that's not exactly how it looked in August of 1969. Here are promoters, Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang talking to a reporter in a scene from, "Woodstock" the movie.
(Soundbite of movie, "Woodstock")
Unidentified Man #1: Financially, this is a disaster.
Unidentified Man #2: But you look so happy.
ROSE: True, the festival lost a couple of million dollars, but the money started flowing pretty quickly. Warner Brothers offered the organizers enough to pay off about half of their debt in exchange for the movie and soundtrack rights.
(Soundbite of song, "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)")
Ms. JANICE JOPLIN (Singer): Try just a little bit harder you know you'd better baby and you know you got Try, try, try…
ROSE: It took about another 10 years for the festival organizers to recoup their investment from royalties on movie tickets and record sales. The royalties have been flowing in ever since. The film alone made more than $50 million. And the organizers of Woodstock weren't the only ones, who cashed in on what they'd started.
Mr. ALAN LIGHT (Former Editor, Spin): If that's your job, to pay attention to these kinds of trends and movements, this was now a movement that you really could not help but notice.
ROSE: Alan Light is a former editor of Spin and Vibe magazines. He says before Woodstock, most journalists and advertisers had written off the counterculture as something that was mainly confined to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Mr. LIGHT: I think there was a still a sense that those are those kids, didn't feel like they're our kids. And I think at Woodstock, that's where people started to think, this is what all those kids are doing, and this is what they're going to be doing.
ROSE: So marketers immediately started using the style and music of young people to sell them stuff, says Todd Gitlin, author of "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage."
Mr. TODD GITLIN (Author, "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage"): The conversion of the counterculture into a market was the holy grail of many marketers.
(Soundbite of Coca Cola Hilltop ad)
NEW SEEKERS: I like to teach the world to sing, sing with me in perfect harmony…
ROSE: Coca-Cola's 1971 Hilltop ad, as it was called, featured a bunch of attractive, multiethnic, long-haired young people singing together on a grassy hilltop.
(Soundbite of Coca Cola Hilltop ad)
NEW SEEKERS: And I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company…
ROSE: The commercial was shot in Italy. But the reference to Woodstock is obvious. Wharton School marketing professor, Steve Hoch says the festival had great brand recognition from the get-go.
Professor STEVE HOCH (Marketing, Wharton School): You say the word Woodstock, people are not going to be thinking about its location in New York. They're going to be thinking about that festival. And it happened so long ago, but it's still fresh. It still has exactly the same meaning to people as it did before.
ROSE: No matter how far you stretch it, this year festival organizers licensed the Woodstock dove-and-guitar logo to target for a line of plastic silverware, beach towels and reversible picnic blankets. So, what accounts for this resilience? Maybe, says author and Columbia professor Todd Gitlin, it's because we want to remember Woodstock as a moment when Americans could coexist.
Mr. GITLIN: Woodstock ever since has corresponded to that hope that America could actually quote unquote "come together." And I'm not cynical about it. I'm not saying it's simply a shtick to sell stuff. I think that what's been projected onto the event of Woodstock is this collective desire, which never quite goes away.
ROSE: No matter how many times they repackage the soundtrack album.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
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