The Pajama Game: March PR History

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

Newlyweds do all sorts of memorable things for their honeymoon. But few can top the one that occurred in March 1969, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their “Bed-in for Peace.”

The couple had secretly married on March 20. Knowing that the marriage announcement would attract widespread media attention, the couple decided to, in today’s parlance, re-purpose their content. So they checked in to the Presidential Suite of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and invited the press to visit them in their room.

The previous year, Lennon and Ono had been photographed in the nude. Now the media was being invited to film the newlyweds’ honeymoon, and they were eager to give them full coverage, so to speak. As Lennon later recalled, “they fought their way in.”

But instead of finding the couple in sexual congress, they found them in opposition to Congress. The newlyweds were wearing their PJs and snuggled in bed, calling for an end to the Vietnam War and violence around the world. With reporters crowding around them, Yoko explained, “We’re thinking that, instead of going out and fight and make war or something like that, we should just stay in bed: Everybody should just stay in bed and enjoy the spring.” Politics really does make for strange bedfellows.

From March 25-31, Lennon and Ono received the media and visitors daily, answering questions, occasionally calling out “All you need is love,” and continually adjusting their respective Sleep Number settings.

The protest did receive extensive coverage, but the media reaction was lukewarm. One paper declared, “Beatle Lennon and his charmer Yoko have now established themselves as the outstanding nutcases of the world.” And one reporter, apparently missing the irony of the moment, asked Lennon, “Is there not a more positive way of demonstrating in favor of peace than sitting in bed?” To which Lennon replied, “Stop asking us if you think it’s going to work and do something yourself.” Ol’ John probably would have been a pretty good PR consultant – too bad he missed his calling.

Sometimes forgotten is that, a couple of months later, the couple held a second bed-in, in a Montreal hotel room. It’s where they recorded, “Give Peace a Chance,” joined by several celebrities and, I believe, the Fiji Water Girl.

Lennon, with McCartney, later wrote a song about the experience, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” It references the media three times, and concludes, “The way things are going, they’re going to crucify me.” The Beatles split up the next year, and in 1980, Lennon was shot and killed.

Of course, the bed-in did not succeed in ending the war. But it did help the Amsterdam Hilton: The room, now known as the John and Yoko Suite, is available for around $2,000 a night. And there is little doubt that, as a PR strategy, the bed-ins were both imaginative and effective. All of which should help us remember: A little careless pillow talk can destroy a great PR campaign. And sometimes, launch one.