Hey! Ho! Let’s go: Lessons in branding from the Ramones
On July 11, the last original surviving member of the punk band The Ramones—Tommy (né Thomas Erdelyi)—passed away at age 65. I was a little young when these guys came on the scene in the litter-strewn, urine-stained NYC of the mid 1970s. But later, I relished their “all meat, no preservatives” style of rock-and-roll when I took up the drums in middle school.
The band is credited with helping to ignite the punk movement that shook New York and London to their rafters in the late 70s. Others claim the Ramones were the seeds for all the Heavy Metal hair bands that would rise to dominance in the 80s.
I enjoyed their music, but I also totally got the Ramones as an entity—as a brand.
Everything about Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy was anti-establishment. They didn’t give a damn if they offended anyone, if they made money, or whether or not they got radio airtime. They just wanted to play hard-banging sets that were famous for being less than 20 minutes. (The longest Ramones songs are only about 2-1/2 minutes.)
But being anti-establishment is a form of identity, too. Think of Harley Davidson®, the Tea Party, and Levi’s®… they all embrace rugged individualism and bucking the status quo. The Ramones, whether they were aware of it or not, were masters of anti-establishment. They most certainly had a brand, even though that word would probably make them and their fans gag in protest.
To me, their brand can be described in one word: Minimalist.
Their music (product) was as basic as it comes: Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Songs were short, hard driving and LOUD. Every tune began with Joey’s famous “1-2-3-4!”—the most fundamental and common time signature in rock. The Ramones boiled their music down to its most raunchy roots. It was about youth, energy, rebellion, anger, sexuality, impact—all the ingredients that gave birth to rock-and-roll in the first place back in the 1950s.
In a weird way, the Ramone’s music was wholesome, true and honest. And extraordinarily consistent in its production. Apple would have been proud.
Their minimalism translated to their look, too. The entire band wore leather jackets, tattered jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, and they all had long hair. Even though none of the band mates were related (they all only assumed the stage name, Ramone), they almost looked like they were brothers or cousins or something. (Interesting side note: The name “Ramone” was inspired by stories of Paul McCartney, who checked into hotels under the pseudonym “Paul Roman” to avoid crazed stalkers and fans.)
Like any great brand, the Ramones emotionally enraptured their audience. Just one look at old footage from their CBGB club days on the Lower East Side, and you’ll see fans thrashing themselves around, overtaken by the music and the attitude. It was exhilarating.
They even had a slogan, kind of: Hey! Ho! Let’s go! Again, four basic, guttural, monosyllabic words. A rallying cry immediately adopted by rabid fans for its perfectly captured overtones of impatience and anger. It was an antidote to so much of the more sappy pop rock of the time. (Anyone remember Afternoon Delight?)
They found an audience and gave it exactly what it wanted. The music scene at the time was more artsy—filled with concept albums, harmonious vocals and epic guitar solos. The Ramones spewed something utterly unique (a USP if ever I heard one)—and that difference mattered to people. That’s a textbook definition of a brand.
Although the Ramones were hardly a commercial success, especially by music industry standards, they did have something any brand in the world would envy and love—the rise above mere commercialism to cultural icon status. Although the line-up changed, the band toured for over two decades—and managed, along the way, to get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and listed on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, among many other honors.
They left more than a trail of torn jeans, long hair and a few thousand club dates. The Ramones left a legacy… a sound… and a brand that, even today, my own kids love to listen to.
– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group