An electric shock
An electric shock

On July 25 1965, 17,000 adoring fans gathered in anticipation at the Newport Folk Festival.

The star-studded concert was playing out perfectly.

Hillbilly singer Cousin Emmy had just performed “Turkey in Straw”.

Up next was a 24-year-old Bob Dylan, who had already written one of the anthems of the freedom movement: “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Introduced by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Dylan strode on stage in a bright orange shirt and black leather jacket with a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar dangling from his neck.

Dylan, who was always chatty and cheerful with his audience, didn’t say a word.

His fans were expecting his usual stripped-down acoustic set, but he took to the stage backed by the five-piece Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Just the night before, Dylan had got together with the band and rehearsed until dawn.

He wanted to try something new. Something different.

The band thundered into an electric rendition of Maggie’s Farm.

Dylan leant into the microphone: “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more,” his vocal almost drowned out by Bloomfield’s piercing lead guitar.

It was aggressive in tempo, distorted, raw — and above all, electric.

The majority of the fans looked on in confusion.

Legend has it that festival organizer Pete Seeger was so outraged that he grabbed an axe and tried to smash the sound system.

To many it was a musical betrayal: Dylan had abandoned the authenticity of folk for the glamour of rock ‘n’ roll.

This wasn’t the folk purist people had paid good money to see.

“Bring back cousin Emmy,” cried sections of the crowd.

The boos were intense.

After twelve minutes and just three songs, Dylan and the band unplugged and left.

That’s when the place went completely nuts.

And although he returned to play a further couple of acoustic numbers, for many his performance was an act of sheer heresy.

He didn’t appear at Newport again for another 37 years.

But it was to be a pivotal point in the history of rock music.

Dylan had turned everything on its head: proclaiming his artistic independence, demonstrating the poetic possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll.

And while fans in England a month later still booed and cried “Judas”, it wasn’t long before audiences got on board and eagerly followed Dylan into the mainstream.

His next rock album, Highway 61 Revisited, was hailed an instant classic and “Like a Rolling Stone” became his first hit single.

By the time his album Blonde on Blonde was released in 1966, the majority of former critics had been forced to admit that his switch to electric instruments hadn’t subdued his knack for writing rebellious songs.

Creative businesses talk a lot of differentiation and disruption.

But how often do they plug in and turn it up to eleven?

Favouring slight difference over blowing the doors off.

To be truly creative you need to take risks.

And sometimes that means being comfortable with an unpredictable outcome.

If Dylan had conducted, and listened to, research after his ’65 Newport appearance, he would never have blazed a high-voltage trail into rock history.

If he’d listened to Peter Yarrow, who had tried to convince Dylan to warm up his audience with a few acoustic numbers and explain that he was going to try something new that he’d been working on, there wouldn’t be documentaries and books dedicated to that summer’s night in 1965.

Like Dylan, creative businesses (and clients) have a duty to avoid dilution.

Say no to compromise and do stuff that stops people in their tracks.

People will remember that.

As Bob Dylan penned in Maggie’s Farm: “I try my best, to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them.”

Be brave.

Develop a distinctive voice of your own.

Now that’s electrifying.

—DB

Cousin Emmy doing her thang

Bob Dylan doing his

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Why the opinion polls got it right
Why the opinion polls got it right

 

At 10pm on 7 May 2015 the BBC published their exit poll.

For weeks the polls had been predicting a hung parliament.

Media coverage had talked about little else.

But the exit poll predicted a Conservative majority.

Such was the level of disbelief, Paddy Ashdown promised to eat his hat, and Alastair Campbell his kilt, if the polls were correct.

Both were later forced to come good on their promises.

General Election 2015: Paddy Ashdown Alastair Campbell eat hat and kilt.Paddy Ashdown and Alastair Campbell eat their words (image: The Telegraph)

 

Since then there has been much talk of how the polls could have got it so wrong.

There have even been calls for independent enquiries and the abolition of opinion polls.

I believe this misses the point entirely.

There was nothing wrong with the polls. I believe they accurately reported what people wanted to do, which was to vote Conservative and Labour in equal numbers.

But what people say and what people do are entirely different things.

A few weeks before Election Day I read a fascinating article in The Times that dissected the polls.

As well as asking people who they intended to vote for, the poll also asked who they felt was the stronger leader (Cameron or Miliband) and who could be trusted with the economy (Conservative or Labour).

The results showed that Cameron was seen as a significantly stronger leader, and the Conservatives were trusted much more with the economy.

I believe that the polls were right. Ideologically there were as many people who wanted to vote Labour as Conservative.

But when it came to decision time, what people wanted to do and what they felt was right, changed.

Herein lies an important reminder of the research affect for all of us involved in pre-testing creative.

You cannot always rely on the face value of what people say. You need to dig deep. Understand their thought processes. And try to predict what they’ll do when they’re in the supermarket aisle, online checkout or voting booth.

- RG

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You Can’t Change the World with Brand Onions
You Can’t Change the World with Brand Onions

We started Squad because we observed clients frustration at the disconnect between strategy and creative.

Strategists operate upstream often at boardroom, business or category level.

They gain a rich understanding of the market, competition, customer and client.

Through a mindset of relentless questioning, digging and exploring, they get to grips with the problem, which is often different to the problem the client thought they had.

This understanding gives birth to the solution.

The problem is that the outputs of the strategic process are too often PowerPoint slides, models, onions and pyramids.

These outputs do not speak todesigners, copywriters, developers and content creators.

Too often, all the strategic effort gets misinterpreted, misunderstood and misused.

Thinking doesnt translate into action.

And without effective implementation, strategy is pointless.

We founded Squad because we wanted to bridge this gap.

We wanted to fuse strategy and creative.

To work with clients at a level we call before the brand.

To get to grips with the bigissue, first and foremost.

To create a business where strategists and creatives work alongside each other in tandem, not in sequence.

To ensure the outputs of strategy are creative tools that can be understood and used to create change.

To treat every stage of the project as creative, so strategy becomes as imaginative as the advertising or branding.

We often talk to clients about finding their purpose or their why.

This is ours.

David Barraclough & Rob Gray

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Don’t Weep Make it Happen
Don’t Weep Make it Happen

 

George was a talented guitarist.

Talented enough to impress a friend in the year above him at school.

And when you're fifteen, its very hard to impress a sixteen-year-old.

Its even harder to get his eighteen-year-old pal to say you can join his band, The Quarrymen.

And George was fundamental to their sound.

He wasn't a particularly fast, noisy or flashy showman.

But George truly understood his instrument.

Stretching not only the band, but also, eventually, musical boundaries.

He was a virtuoso player of numerous stringed instruments.

George didn't draw attention to himself by belting out self-indulgent solos.

He simply made the right decisions, never playing a note out of place.

Not safe and predictable, but understated and sophisticated.

Drawing his influences from a huge array of sources: from jazz to rockabilly.

His structured chord vocabulary,versatile and tasteful.

Playing with clarity, feeling and an unmistakable tone.

He paved the way for the likes of The Smiths Johnny Marr, his signature style perfectly showcased Morrissey's baritone, without the need for showboating solos.

So opposed to guitar heroics was George, that when he penned a song that was crying out for him to exhibit his own talents, he didn't.

Because his problem was bigger than a guitar solo.

On the 25 July 1969, The Beatles (the band The Quarrymen became) began recording'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'.

But it wasn't working.

John and Paul weren't taking it seriously, because they were only interested in recording their own songs.

Being the third-best songwriter in the best band in the world was a difficult place to be.

But George knew the song was pretty good.

The next day, while driving into London with a friend, he asked him to play on it.

His friend was reluctant, because no one else ever played on a Beatles record.

George was persuasive.

So, on the evening of 6 September his friend joined them in the studio.

Using Harrison's Gibson Les Paul, Eric Clapton performed his solo.

Harrison knew this would make them take his idea seriously.

Clapton's presence put the band on their best behaviour.

They all tried that bit harder.

Georges problem wasn't his songwriting or his guitar playing, it was finding a way to change the game.

Creatives need to understand that sometimes a great idea isn't enough: you have to be able to make it happen.

Create the conditions for success.

Get the best people on the job.

And make collaboration a core part of your DNA, because brands built today need to be more multidimensional.

Like George, sometimes arm's-length orchestration is more effective than being a flashy soloist.

David Barraclough

 

Footnote:
George Harrison's first six studio albums released between 1968 and 1975 on the Beatles Apple label have been newly remastered as part of a box set. The Apple Years 1968-75 is available now. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/theapple-years-1968-75/id913049423

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