I discovered something interesting about A-list direct response copywriters.
They have a thing for jazz.
And to be honest, it’s not a surprise.
Jazz music is – by nature – experimental. It’s improvisational, playful, daring.
It gets into a car to take a drive, not worrying about the destination but enjoying the ride.
It has secret chambers and mysterious twists and turns. And it weaves its magic upon your ears – whether it’s the celebratory bounce of Big Band or the moody sounds of avant garde.
I was raised on the Big Band sound. During weekends, Benny Goodman and The Dorsey Brothers filled our home with sweet melodies as we performed our chores. My favorite was Glenn Miller. His “String of Pearls” never failed to bring a smile to my face.
My father played the double bass (or as I called it when I was little, the “Big Daddy Bass”) in a jazz quartet and later, the electric bass. My brother also learned how to play bass but leaned into rock ‘n roll. And my guy, “The Cowboy,” plays guitar.
My parents were talented dancers, too. I learned how to jitterbug from my dad and loved to dance with him at weddings (that is, when he and my mom weren’t dominating the floor).
I never thought about the relationship between music and words until I discovered that many of the copywriters I admired loved jazz.
My love for different types of jazz deepened after I dated a jazz pianist. He introduced me to Bebop, jazz fusion, hard bop, free jazz, latin jazz and jazz funk. I love John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and more.
I had the privilege of seeing Oscar Peterson in concert. I never in my life saw a man with such huge hands. He could easily span an octave on the piano with one hand. Despite their mammoth size, they skimmed gracefully across the keys, delivering some of the most magnificent music I had ever heard.
There is something about jazz music. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the wild beating heart of man.
It is passionate… messy… bold… and crazy. It can softly serenade you into bliss or pull you up by the collar and smack you around. It is, to me, the soundtrack of life.
Perhaps this is why copywriters – and especially direct response copywriters – love jazz so much.
It taps into the human spirit.
It is emotional and colors outside the lines.
When you watch a jazz musician play, he is creating sound at that very moment that isn’t printed on a sheet of music. It’s brand new, bubbling up like molten lava from a volcano. Thank goodness it was recorded.
So what does this have to do with marketing?
Glad you asked.
I wish more marketers would ply their trade like jazz musicians instead of classical pianists.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love classical music, too. Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Debussy and more.
But classical music is precise.
There is no room for improvisation. Mozart wrote his notes with exact, relentless perfection. Never scribbled over his work. It was like a person doing a crossword puzzle in pen and ink. That’s how outrageously talented he was.
I look at English majors as the classical pianists of language. There is exactness about grammar and they practice it until they get it right. It is pristine. And the highly skilled write so beautifully that you almost want to weep when you read it in a book or magazine.
However, that is their art style. And the world most definitely needs art.
But sales? That’s where the “jazz” copywriter comes in. And jazz has its own art style.
That’s when marketing starts to wind up the big pipe organ and the gigantic notes come blazing through.
The copywriter tests things. She throws out a few crazy headlines and watches how people react. She deftly cuts through the fat and serves up pure meat.
And if she’s in a mood, she’ll rip your heart out and show you the bloody thing while it’s still pumping while matter-of-factly asking, “Does it hurt, now?”
Then she’ll throw your heart on the floor and stomp on it just to make sure you got the point.
That’s the type of marketing we need today.
Good lord, how many times have I been bored silly reading some of the marketing collateral I find on websites!
Best of breed…
Stop. Please. Just stop.
This is not the remarkable kind of marketing that makes me swoon. Instead, it puts me to sleep.
We need more risk-takers in marketing.
I know, I know… you’ve got the C-level suite breathing down your neck, asking for more and more data. They want measurement, numbers, analysis.
But people aren’t numbers.
They’re living, breathing human beings who have fears, hopes and dreams. They want to live better than their neighbors, appear younger and sexier, achieve power and recognition and yes – get a seat at the C-level table.
And what do they get with most marketing?
The “Me-Me-Me Song.”
It’s not the wild sound of jazz that they’d respond to if given half the chance.
Too many companies go on and on about themselves in their marketing. They are so afraid that a buyer won’t notice their attractive features unless they shove it in their face.
Come on, marketers. We can do better than that.
In fact, a hell of a lot better.
Why not take a walk on the wild side and be the Charlie Parker of marketing?
Why not ignore your audience and be the Thelonius Monk of your industry? Just create art for the pure joy of it and if people like it, fine. If not, they can take a hike. Monk wasn’t into pleasing the crowd. He was too busy reaching his own set of high standards.
Explain to your bosses that marketing is an experiment, not a contract.
We live in the midst of a technological tsunami. Unexpected twists and turns arrive on a marketer’s desk each day.
We’re so busy trying to keep up with the new developments that we often forget our true purpose: to create.
To tell an irresistible story that makes people stop and listen.
To do something daring and magnificent, to run toward our buyer with arms outstretched as though we’re going to tackle him, then dodge to the side last minute while laughing in glee.
It’s Steve Jobs, Einstein and Charlie Chaplin all stuffed in a Tiffany blue box and wrapped with a white ribbon.
Be bold. Be wild. Take chances and be unforgettable.
Play that tune, jazz man. And stop watching what everyone else is doing.
Those who push us into the heavens never check the side mirrors.
They just pull back the thrusters and rocket themselves into space.