One of the greatest guitar solos of all time is Jimmy Page’s masterpiece on Stairway to Heaven. Right after Robert Plant sings “your stairway lies on the whispering wind,” Page launches into an epic solo that, at the time, extended the song well beyond the limit of any airtime that radio stations could give it (this would later be amended). Yes, the solo is awesome but how do we measure how awesome it is?
For starters, let’s look at engagement. The average guitar solo is about 15-20 seconds so, if you count the 12-string strumming part, the Stairway solo is easily over a minute, making the solo 3-4 times more awesome than your average guitar solo.
Let’s not forget about impressions either. Stairway has been a AOR staple since November 1971 and often appears near the top of the list on Classic Rock Greatest Hits of All-Time countdowns. According to Wikipedia, it is the most requested song of all time on FM radio despite never being released as a single. Don’t forget about all the amateur guitarists playing this song in Guitar Centers all around the country at this very moment either. Yeah, they may be annoying people but those are impressions too.
Then, of course, there’s Page’s use of the double-neck guitar. Sure he probably didn’t use the double-neck in the studio but it’s still implied in the overall awesomeness quotient due to the live performances. Using the ad equivilency model, I think that makes all these numbers worth 1.75 more than other guitar solos by the same measurement. Keep in mind that this formula doesn’t apply to the five-neck guitar that the guy from Cheap Trick uses. After three, each additional neck begins to count against you.
Ok, this is obviously stupid, right?
The parallel hit me while reading the excellent Brains on Fire post in response to an Ad Week interview with Alex Bogusky of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Bogusky was quoted as saying:
We are so lucky to be in a creative field at a time when the economy is running on creativity. Yet we are still inculcated to mistrust the concept of creativity. We may be perfectly positioned, but we spend our time trying to add scientific processes to our strategies and scientific testing to our work. Why do we distrust something that is so easy for us all to identify and identify with?
It still amazes me when I hear clients that are really drawn to a creative idea, have the budget to do it but can’t justify it unless they can measure quantifiable results. If this approach was taken to any other creative discipline I would be amazed if any creativity survived. Not to mention, it’s probably at the root of many consumers’ disdain for marketing.
In a world where singles had to be under five minutes long (it would’ve been shorter if not for Dylan, btw), how would Jimmy Page have made a case for his epic guitar solo in Stairway to Heaven? More importantly, if it was omitted, how would it have affected the legacy of Led Zeppelin?
The fact is that attaching your brand to a creative idea makes you look more intelligent, inventive and creates an actual connection with another human being that goes one level deeper than an overused emotional trigger. Good design, writing (you know sometimes words have two meanings) and compelling interactivity can only be measured on the most basic levels but the real value is far more obvious. Not all that glitters is gold, but some of it is.
So when will this new day dawn for those who stand long? Hard to tell. Interactive platforms are certainly expanding the canvass for creativity, as I learned when I visited the Microsoft campus in Silicon Valley this week, but there is still a ways to go before everyone can climb the stairway over quantifiability. Perhaps only then will our shadows be taller than our souls.
(ed note: forgive me for this self indulgence…at least I didn’t use every line from the song, as I originally intended)