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On Sergeant Pepper and Making the Most of Your Medium

It was fifty years ago last May that The Beatles released one of the most influential records of all time, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Having grown weary of playing gigs where the loudest sound was the screaming of their audience, Paul, John, George & Ringo had retreated to Abbey Road. When they emerged six months later, they had created an album which would forever change our understanding of what was possible in a recording studio.

The brilliance of Sergeant Pepper and its extraordinary sonic innovation was due in no small part to the band’s producer, Sir George Martin. With characteristic humility, he describes how they went about making the record …

“When I started in the record business, the ultimate aim of everybody was to try and recreate a live performance as accurately as possible. But we realised we could do something other than that. A film doesn’t just recreate a stage play; it’s something else. So, without being too pompous, we thought we were into another kind of art form. We were actually devising something that couldn’t be done any other way. We were putting something down on tape that could only be done on tape.”

Always somewhat on the periphery, Ringo has recalled how, during the recording of Sergeant Pepper, he became very good at chess.

Always somewhat on the periphery, Ringo has recalled how, during the recording of Sergeant Pepper, he became very good at chess.

Aided by a limitless recording budget and a clear artistic vision, the Beatles produced a gloriously expansive three dimensional sound; a record rich in sonic colour which fuses music hall, big band, jazz, psychedelia and Indian classical into one magical musical cornucopia. Above all else, it is an audio recording which fully exploits the creative opportunities of being an audio recording.

So what does a fifty year old album have to do with advertising today?

Well, I can’t help but notice an ever increasing number of integrated campaigns where the press ad is just a still from the TV commercial. Or the social strategy is simply to share the TV. Where the creatives and their clients appear to have wilfully ignored the unique opportunities of each of their expensively acquired media.

Which is rather like going into a recording studio and simply recreating a live performance: a massive missed opportunity.

So, next time you’re working on a campaign begin with the medium, rather than the message.

Ask yourself the same question that Sir George posed as the Beatles walked into Abbey Road on a dark November afternoon in 1967: what is it that we can do in this medium that could only be done in this medium?