To be fair, AC/DC plays more than three chords. But only slightly.
Here’s vintage AC/DC doing “Back in Black” from 1980.
Now, here’s AC/DC from last year singing “Rock and Roll Train”.
Dramatically different songs? Not really.
How about song structure? Pretty similar.
What about the band’s look? Well, Angus is still wearing the school boy outfit. Brian is wearing the same hat. Looks pretty much the same.
By no means am I criticizing AC/DC for sounding a looking the same 30 years later! In fact, quite the opposite is true.
AC/DC sell out massive arenas night after night in large part because they do not violate their brand promise. Almost every song on almost every album will live up to the promise of being fun to listen to, easy to sing along with, and impossible not to turn up nice and loud. That is the AC/DC brand promise. They live up to it in every song and every concert.
So far, they haven’t recorded any songs about political oppression, global warming, or the difficulty a man has when saying “I love you” to a woman. And don’t hold your breath expecting them to.
For branding experts, AC/DC demostrates a critical lesson:
* If you’ve established a brand promise or expectation, you risk everything if you don’t live up to it at all times. Your website, office, brochures, staff, and end product need to communicate that brand promise. Your customer should never see something that isn’t perfectly in-line with their expectations. But…
* That doesn’t mean you can’t evolve! While AC/DC made being consistent into a 30+ year run, other bands have made continually reinventing themselves part of their brand expectation. Madonna is a great example. The Beatles evolved more in eight years together than most bands do in a lifetime. But both Madonna and The Beatles made reinventing themselves part of the customer’s expectation.
* One final note of caution: the only expectation that matters is that of the customer. If they think you are a fun, loud, party band like AC/DC, you’d better live up to that expecation, even if you really see yourself as a romantic singer-songwriter. Once your customer decides what they expect of you, you can either live up to that expectation or start over with a new name and image.
The rather deep concept that you aren’t really in control of who you are is another post altogether… one soon to come!