The Swingin’ Johnsons: Poor branding? Probably.

A good friend told me a few weeks ago that I should write more about music here, since music is such an important part of my life. So I thought I’d give it a go.

I play bass in a band called The Swingin’ Johnsons. Yes, that’s right.

Occasionally, we call ourselves a Lyndon Johnson tribute band, when we need to water down the story, and most of our show posters have pictures of Lyndon Johnson on them. I don’t know exactly how we are paying “tribute” to Lyndon Johnson by what we do, but there it is.

We refer to our music as “alty-tonk,” as opposed to honky-tonk. Our lead singer, David Burney, sounds quite a bit like Johnny Cash, so we tend to play a lot of Johnny Cash covers, but also do our own stuff, and fill in around the edges with songs from everyone under the sun; The Who, Lucinda Williams, Outkast, The Talking Heads, Alejandro Escovado, Neil Young, Son Volt, Merle Haggard, you know, that kind of thing. The video here is one of our original songs, “She Ain’t.”

I’m still not sure exactly how we ended up being called The Swingin’ Johnsons. I think David had already chosen the name when I joined. And we’ve played enough over the last 3-4 years to build some brand equity in the name now, so it’d be hard to change even if we wanted to change it. As a brand name, The Swingin’ Johnsons definitely has some pluses and minuses.

On the minus side, when I have to tell someone’s grandmother or minister the name of my band, I have to tell them almost apologetically. Typically these folks get quiet, and don’t have any more questions. I have to break the silence with the LBJ cover band line or change the subject.

On the plus side, we tend not to have a lot of people’s grandmothers and ministers showing up for our shows. Now these are good people, but they probably aren’t the right brand target for us. One of the great strengths of The Swingin’ Johnsons name is that it accurately matches the experience of going to one of our shows. If you are the kind of person who would be offended by our band name, you would definitely be offended by one of our shows. Stay at home watching re-runs of House or NCIS, and we’ll all be happier!

We’ve had some problems over the years when it comes to playing benefit or charity shows. Some of the local Obama for President campaign officials weren’t too happy that a band called The Swingin’ Johnsons had been booked for a rally last fall. We’ve also been turned down by more than one charity that was scared off by the name.

And that is both the upside and the downside of The Swingin’ Johnsons. Our brand is not inclusive, like Coca-Cola. We aren’t ever going to teach the whole world to sing. There are some people who would never sing one of our original songs like “I Want a Girl with a Big Texas Spread.”

And that’s OK by us. We aren’t for everyone, and our band name/brand states that right up front. It is transparent and authentic. We surely can’t deliver on the brand promise of Radiohead or U2, but we do just fine as The Swingin’ Johnsons.

As one of our favorite band rules goes: “The band is going to have a good time, the rest of you are on your own.”

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


One thought on “The Swingin’ Johnsons: Poor branding? Probably.

  1. Ftr: Mr Miles wright named the band. Adopted unanimously. Marketing genius. Unless that’s an oxymoron. And I’m pretty sure it is.

    But the name certainly sets a distinctive brand promise. And I like to think the band delivers. So, we’re not for everyone. But our customer satisfaction ratings are off the hook. Which is good according to the MIT Sloan K report. I have data here… Somewhere…

    Oh. My grandmother– a fundamentalist Baptist– would have loved every song we do… Although Gin and Juice might push it a little. And I invite my preacher every time we play. He hasn’t made it to a performance yet. But he’s retiring now. I always remind him that Jesus hung out with the low-life of his time. From the fishermen to prostitutes and tax collectors and that wacky cricket-eating dude who got his head cut-off. His first miracle was turning barrels of water into wine cause his mother wanted one for the road. I like to think Jesus is right there with us every time we do a sound check. Singing harmony and buying us a round of jack and waiting to hear One Little Threeway with everybody else. His father’s mansion has many rooms. Praise the lord. And happy Easter everyone.

    Posted by David Burney | April 13, 2009, 1:36 am

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