What AC/DC can teach you about advertising

They’ve been recording and touring for 35 years. And in all that time they’ve remained an icon of anti-innovation. AC/DC began their career playing three-chord rock songs and they’re still playing three-chord rock songs. Almost nothing has changed.

Has it hurt them? Well, when the band recently released its new album, Black Ice, it went straight to the top of the Billboard charts, selling 784,000 copies in the first week. So I’d say no. Their lack of innovation seems to be working quite nicely, thank you.

We live in a time of endless, often mindless, change. DVDs killed VHS, and now your DVDs face their own mortality. You thought you’d caught up when you got that tiny little cell phone, now big Blackberries with keyboards are the rage. The GPS is cool, but the maps were out of date the moment you got into your car.

Everywhere you turn, something is changing and that out-of-breath feeling you used to get now and then is with you every day. And all you want is to find something that’s stable and familiar.

Thus the success of AC/DC. No, they’re not the best musicians in the world. No, they’re not hip or up-to-date. In fact, I contend that they’re as popular as ever and selling out shows because they’ve made no effort at all to stay current. They aren’t interested in updating their skill set. They refuse to embrace new technology. And no, they aren’t going to revise their corporate mission to better serve their customers.

These aging, stubborn dinosaurs give their fans exactly what they want: the same songs, the same sound, the same show, the same attitude. Why? Because new isn’t always better.

When they recorded their first album (and I do mean album, pure, luscious vinyl), they established their product. It was good. Album after album, they kept producing the same product, over and over and over. After all, why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Okay, so what does this have to do with advertising? A lot, actually. Because while most advertising needs improved or updated over time, sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. If it works, it works. Change for the sake of change makes no sense.

Take the De Beers “A Diamond is Forever” ad campaign. Copywriter Frances Gerety coined that phrase in 1948. It’s one of the best and most recognized slogans of all time and has remained unchanged for over 60 years.

Should the company meddle with it? Maybe tweak it to say, “Diamonds Last Quite a Long Time” or “Got Diamonds?” or maybe “Don’t Buy a Toaster for Her Anniversary, You Dolt. Get Her a Diamond!”

No, the original phrase and the basic campaign has worked, does work, and will continue to work. No change is required.

Or how about the Maytag repair man? The character of “Ol’ Lonely” was created by copywriter Vincent R. Vassolo and has appeared in countless TV commercials since 1967. It was a simple but brilliant idea: Maytag appliances are so dependable, the repairman is bored out of his mind. The actor playing the role has changed a few times, but not the core idea. Since it still works, the company has wisely kept using it.

What’s the longest running ad ever? That just may be an advertisement for the Jos. Neel Co., a clothing store in Macon, Georgia. They have run their tiny little ad in the upper left corner of the Macon Telegraph every single day since February 22, 1889. That’s 120 years. Innovation? Fuggeddaboudit!

The famous ad man Leo Burnett once said, “I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.”

Absolutely right.

In a world where change is a tiring constant, those few things that remain the same become comfortable and familiar friends. People like to do business with friends.

The next time you’re in a meeting and someone suggests an overhaul to your advertising, ask one simple question: “Why?” If there’s a good answer to that question, call me. If not, end the meeting, pass out the adult beverages, and crank up the AC/DC.

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8 Responses to “What AC/DC can teach you about advertising”

  1. Jamison on March 17th, 2009 8:13 pm

    Great article, great points.

    In this day and age of constant reinvention, both bands and brands that maintain an authentic core through the peaks and valleys have a shot at building something longer lasting.

    It reminds me a little about something else – design in marketing. I often ask my team, if Craigslist hired out their web design when they started years ago and we got the contract, would we have designed it the way it looks? I think it would have been a test of our egos! The fact that Craigslist has maintained that useful, slightly ugly look (to some) shows their branding discipline. Perhaps it’s like the Brian Johnson of web sites? I guess it has to age a bit longer. :)

  2. Mark on March 18th, 2009 7:43 pm


    This is why I keep reading your blog.

    Personally I would have chosen ZZ Top (they’ve been doing it longer and better), but as an Aussie I can’t really fault your choice of AC/DC.

    Let there be Rock!

  3. Dean Rieck on March 18th, 2009 7:54 pm

    Well … I dunno. ZZ Top is certainly safer driving music. I mean, cranking up AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” is one sure way to get a speeding ticket.

  4. Mike Vassolo on March 20th, 2009 10:50 pm

    Great post. Dead on.

    My grandfather created the “Maytag Man” for Burnett and worked on it for more than 20 years. From him, I learned that a good idea has legs, a bad idea doesn’t. What makes good advertising (and a good ad man) is knowing the difference and getting the hell out of its way.

  5. Writer's Coin on March 24th, 2009 8:59 am

    Geico should read this article and bring the caveman back instead of that stupid pile of dollar bills

  6. Justin Hitt on March 24th, 2009 8:59 am

    Spot on. Excellent post. What you are touching on is that people want consistency and they want to connect.

    If you provide both in your message you’ll have the right connection. In some markets, “consistency” can be keeping up with technology, while others it’s providing quality product.

    In the case of AC/DC, they just ROCK! While they aren’t the best musicians (neither were The Clash), they put out music an audience can connect with year after year.

    Rock on,


  7. Michael Buechele on March 24th, 2009 10:06 am

    There was a lot of talk when AC/DC signed an exclusive deal with Walmart. The record company can include CDs on the Walmart shelf as units sold, so it really doesn’t reflect the number of CDs in their fans hands.

  8. Marketing Advertising Alignment Project | The Marketing Spot on May 9th, 2011 12:36 pm

    [...] your campaign. Each ad show flow seamlessly to the next ad. Keep the message the same, but adjust the delivery on a small scale to keep interest in your [...]

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