How Axl Rose Ended Up Commenting on Our Creative Piece

When the Guns N’ Roses singer weighed in on the debate around one of our recent creative pieces, we knew we’d made it. Following the success of The Vocal Ranges of the World’s Greatest Singers, we’d like to share a bit about how we got there.

Made for our client Concert Hotels, the piece racked up some nice numbers to go along with Axl’s comments:

  • 1.8 million page visits
  • 103k ‘likes’ from its feature on Huffington Post
  • Over 100k ‘likes’ on the original URL
  • More than 200k total Facebook engagements
  • Coverage on big name sites like Time, CoCreate and NBC
  • Over a million page views in two days (all earned media)

And, unusually for major media coverage, almost every piece mentioned Concert Hotels in the first couple of lines and the vast majority linked to them directly.

Article on CoCreate

A round-about route to a creative idea

The creative team were determined to follow up on the success of their previous 100 Years of Rock graphic for the same client. I asked Head of Creative Mark Johnstone about the conversation that led to the piece.

Phil and I were throwing around a load of questions: Could we look at why or how the different genres changed? What if we could take one tune and make it change through the genres, e.g. make it funk, heavy metal…? What if you could make your own super group? 

Like most creative ideas, ours was struck upon after a series of questions, thoughts and experiments. Exploring the ‘make your own super group’ idea, Mark Googled ‘Jimmy Page vocal...’, intending to write ‘...vocal solo’ but as he typed, Google Autosuggest came up with ‘vocal range’. Curious, Mark clicked on the result and landed on The Range Place. Here was a site populated by music fans who had curated a dataset of the vocal ranges of famous singers. While he knew the data had its limitations – not being as definitive or as foolproof as the info he’d usually use – Mark thought it’d be cool to show what it had to say. And, according to the team’s research, the data hadn’t yet been visualised anywhere on the net. Mark saw his chance and grabbed it.

(This process sounds chaotic and it’s hard to imagine how to generate this kind of serendipity reliably. In fact, we’ve spent a long time thinking about how to do exactly that – if you’re interested in the process, take a look at this slidedeck from Mark’s presentation at our SearchLove conference in Boston.)  

Design challenges

Our graphic designer Vicke Cheung came up with an elegant graphic that shows the recorded vocal ranges of a bunch of the world’s greatest singers, all in one place. The first design after the wireframe looked pretty good. However, the bigger questions were around how people would interact with the piece. Vicke said:

Aesthetics weren’t the challenge, it was a question of working out the piece’s functionality. 

Interactivity played a big part. The designers gave viewers the option to sort the list of singers by ‘vocal range’ (with Axl Rose coming out top), ‘highest note’ (with Mariah Carey taking the title) or lowest note’ (well done Axl Rose again!)

Vicke also came up with the novel idea for the responsive design version: the bars of the graph slide behind the text to fit the whole thing into a narrow mobile screen.   

Telling the world

When devising the piece, our team kept in mind a list of things that make a piece newsworthy, as described in this post by our Head of PR Jess Champion

The most significant factor here was conflict.

The first pieces of coverage sparked controversy. Early reports focused on a claim that wasn’t even made in the piece – namely that Axl Rose was being named as the greatest singer of all time. While this had never been our intention, it stoked a fiery debate from a whole bunch of journalists slating the original set for drawing inaccurate conclusions (though, thankfully, not criticising the piece itself).

We thought it was done at this point, but there were two more waves still to come.

Firstly, as often happens with data-oriented pieces, the stats enthusiasts came out of the woodwork to find a singer with an even greater vocal range (spoiler alert: it’s Faith No More’s Mike Patton). This was fine by us – it got us another round of coverage and, since the intention had never been to cover every singer in the world, it didn’t detract from the piece.

Finally, we were excited to see Axl himself comment on the claims made in early coverage and point to a list of people he considers to be the greatest singers.

Timeliness also played a role, though less than we thought. We knew the Billboard Music Awards were coming up and reckoned that by including many of the nominees, our piece could ride on the coat tails of the event. This helped our PR and outreach team pitch it to big publications.

However, it turns out that the Axl Rose angle was far more powerful. As our PR consultant Britt Klontz said:

Data triumphed timeliness in this case.

Overall we were blown away by the success of the piece and learnt many lessons. The potency of the celebrity-factor was driven home and we realised how much you can do with a little found data. We can’t wait to bring out the next creative piece!

What about you? Got any tips on creative work you’d like to share? Get stuck into the comments section below.

We’ll be hearing more from our creative team in the next few weeks. To get all the latest advice and news on creative pieces, sign up to our blog update.



About the author
Harriet Cummings

Harriet Cummings

Harriet Cummings does all sorts of nice things with copy and what-not. When feeling particularly energetic, she goes head first into big projects such as tone of voice and content strategy makeovers. She does need a cup of tea afterwards, mind. When...   read more