I was in the middle of writing a 2nd edition of«The AC/DC Strategy» (in German «Das AC/DC Prinzip» when the news about singer Brian Johnson having to stop hit. The major change to the 1st edition was to include the following thoughts, which arose already when rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young was replaced by his nephew Stevie Young. No true fan of AC/DC would have thought AC/DC could continue without Malcolm Young. But then they did and even released a new album, the first one without Malcolm. In my opinion «Rock Or Bust» is even one of their best albums ever. Can the members of AC/DC be replaced without damage to their brand?
The current discussion and wild rumors about AC/DC hiring a new singer made me wait with the 2nd edition and reconsider these thoughts and the discussion I had with the new (and former) rhythm guitarist Stevie Young in June 2015. I will not comment on any of the rumors but the question whether Brian Johnson can be replaced without AC/DC becoming their own tribute band is keeping the fan community busy and concerned.
If the band continues their current tour without Brian Johnson many of their most loyal fans – most of them since three decades – will either sell their tickets or go and watch the new band only as a reminder of «the real AC/DC» they once celebrated. Is there a way to replace Brian Johnson without such a «damage»?
As I have shown in my book «The AC/DC Strategy» AC/DC has a strong, simple and very clear concept of who they are, what music they play, how they interact with their audience and who their audience is. In general my analysis has shown that they follow the 14 Strategic Campaigning Guidelines, as far as one can tell from the outside.
But is AC/DC a concept band that has the power to replace Brian Johnson without damage to their brand and fan community? – I don’t think so, unless they change a few things, especially their current communication.
In my understanding a concept band would be a band following a clear concept of who they are, which music they play and how they interact with their fans, with members that can be replaced without damage to the brand. In a concept band individuals do not count; only the roles they play. These roles must be clearly defined.
In this understanding AC/DC as we know them cannot be a concept band. First of all, as Stevie Young expressed it when we talked: Angus Young cannot be replaced. If he stops, AC/DC stops.
Second there is the fact that AC/DC had more or less – with short interruptions – the same members for more than three decades now. And when in 2014 two members had to be replaced, the band came back with the same musicians who replaced them earlier temporarily.
Loyalty is a core value of the AC/DC brand. This does not mean that it is also a value of the band. A brand is more what an audience perceives about a company, organization or product, not what it truly is. However, if a brand value is not reflected by visible corporate behavior, the brand will be damaged.
As a consequence of loyalty being a brand value, it has become one of the core values of the AC/DC fan community. If being an AC/DC fan makes a person more loyal or if AC/DC simply attracts loyal people does not matter in this context. But true AC/DC fans are loyal as much to their friends as they are to the band’s individual members. We know who these members are and if there is another guy on stage this will not go unnoticed. Should Brian Johnson be replaced without transparent and understandable explanation, many fans will turn away from the band. This has been expressed in endless E-Mails and online discussions.
Can AC/DC continue to provide the world with AC/DC-style hard Rock’n’Roll music, even if the remaining members one day have to be replaced, can AC/DC turn into a concept band without damage to the brand and the fan community?
In order for this transformation to succeed, the following conditions must be met:
- AC/DC must publicly respect the value of loyalty: Ideally Brian Johnson should be the one to announce his successor. At least he must publicly express his support. This is the only way to assure acceptance by the most loyal part of the fan community and give the new singer the authority to step into Brian’s and Bon’s footsteps. It would also demonstrate respect to the value of loyalty and respect to Brian Johnson whose contribution to the band as their singer for 36 years cannot be denied.
- Should option 1 be impossible, due to heavy disagreements within the band, then the band must at least provide the fan community with transparent and understandable information – again as a sign of respect to the value of loyalty.
- The band should officially announce a new era of AC/DC as a concept band in which individual musicians can be replaced. There is enough understandable reason for this: even Angus has to stop one day and if the world wants to get more AC/DC music it is time to think about a future for the band without its founding members, of which only one is left anyway.
Of course, there will be more things to consider, like legal issues etc. but as far as the brand is concerned and the loyalty of the band’s fan community these few recommendations would serve to make the transformation possible. As a result AC/DC would stand for an idea, for a concept of Rock’n’Roll music that can be further developed and continue to provide the world with the music and emotions that AC/DC stands for.
Should AC/DC replace Brian Johnson without respect to loyalty there is a huge risk of the band becoming a shadow of themselves and touring smaller venues, perceived as their own tribute band – like so many bands did before and are still doing.
It’s a lot about respect. And writing about this: I do respect a lot what Angus, Brian, Bon, Chris, Cliff, Malcolm, Mark (Evans), Phil and the others have done for AC/DC, for us fans and for the heritage of Rock’n’Roll. And out of this respect the world should stop speculating about potential successors for Brian and wait for official information instead.
AC/DC without Briand Johnson and Angus Young? – Hard to imagine but not completely impossible.