I attended Lakeshore Music’s most recent concert which included several jazz songs by a quartet. (I highly recommend their concert series, by the way!)

During the set, I couldn’t help but think about how advertising is like jazz.

The music reminded me of everyday life working as an Account Executive in Client Services…The drum patterns constantly changing (just like the pace of my day), the tune sometimes sounding harmonious, and other times clashing. The music stressed me out at times because it wasn’t perfect and consistent, but then it all came together to sound amazing. That’s what makes jazz unique and wonderful.

Here’s why advertising is like jazz: the key components to both jazz music and good advertising are a delightful mixture of spontaneity + structure.


Byron-Stripling-improv-lakeshoremusic-211x300 Advertising Is Like Jazz

Byron Stripling

The defining element to jazz, eagerly anticipated by the truly talented, is the planned venture into improvisation. Extemporization, inspired riffs, and enlightened connection to the music. Musicians have the opportunity to create their own interpretations within the tune and communicate the emotion they are feeling while they are performing.

A good solo is a magical musical conversation with the audience, and that’s when the emotional connection happens.

Similarly, every formula for successful advertising includes the element of creative interpretation, which leads to the intangible, emotional connection with the audience.

Presentations often include the element of improv and unspoken communication. Anyone who’s taken a public speaking class knows that a presenter is more engaging when his/her speech feels like it’s unscripted and coming from the heart.

Like any improv scenario or musical solo, when you put your interpretation out there and venture into unscripted territory, you’re taking a chance and you’ll make mistakes, but training your brain’s pathways to adapt in the moment leads to invention of new thought patterns and practices.

However, even the best jazz improvisations and the best advertising still relies on some type of structure or it would be disjointed and disorganized.


Often in a jazz song, the basic understructure of the music is set at the beginning and musicians start by following the written composition. The pre-determined tune; the plan; the formula. To play the tune verbatim would sound just fine. “The plan” is where the players spend most of their time to fully internalize the structure before moving into improv.

Advertising also includes structure, and success usually includes a science-based formula.

40-40-20-Ed-Mayer-Davidson-Belluso-286x300 Advertising Is Like JazzMarketing expert Ed Mayer developed a tried and true formula for success direct response marketing which states that an effective marketing campaign is made up of 40% audience, 40% offer, and 20% creative. 

In other words,

40% of your success depends upon selecting the right audience

40% depends on the offer you make to the audience

20% depends on the creative execution (copy, design – the creative improv, in this case!)

(At the time, this rule strongly applied to direct mail, but these core elements translate to other mediums as well.)

Further, the most successful ads and brands appeal to the consumer’s rational and emotional psyche. A formula based on the psychology of decision-making, a combination of logic and feeling. Tangible and intangible.

There are also commonly accepted best practices (structure!) to follow within many formats – for example, where to place your headline and call to action in a print ad or on a website to get the most conversions. It’s called “Conversion-based Advertising” and “Conversion-centered design.”


Just like jazz, the creative interpretation relies on the structure to carry it through. If you’re using the 40/40/20 rule, take comfort in the fact that even if the 20% creative interpretation isn’t perfect, if you picked the right audience and have a strong offer, you’re 80% of the way there.

Janelle Vandriel

Born and raised in Canada, Janelle has managed multi-channel marketing projects for over 8 years. Her past marketing experience in Los Angeles included several national clients with a focus on integrated campaigns in the healthcare and sports industries, and nonprofit sector. Notable accounts include World Vision, American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Forward-thinking and marketing-minded, Janelle has a strong background in business and brand development, print and interactive campaigns, account management, and marketing consulting for startups. At Davidson Belluso, Janelle managed accounts in her areas of marketing expertise, and drove process improvements to maximize efficiency. An American and Canadian citizen and personal trainer, Janelle is an exercise enthusiast and completed the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim hike.