When I was young and trying to get a job in the advertising business, someone suggested that I should regularly find every magazine and newspaper I could get my hands on and tear out the ads I liked. Then, at the end of the year, I should review my choices against what won recognition in "Communication Arts," "The One Show" and the "Art Directors" annuals.
This practice would accomplish three things: one) it would make me hyper-aware of advertising, two) it would help me build a boxful of ads that could help unstick me if I got stuck and three) it would help me develop a critical faculty.
My box of ads became an active part of my advertising education. Most important, it helped me recognize "good."
Further, my definition of good was made up of verities, not trends. Good was not just cool. It was intelligent, beautiful, intrusive and more. To stay in the box, there had to be something to you. Steak along with the sizzle.
I kept my box and my practice for more than two decades. It moved with me through six agencies in New York to one in San Francisco, till I left it in a dumpster in Boston. And along the way it helped me acquire something else: confidence. The confidence of knowing, at least in an advertising sense, right from wrong. Of knowing what good is.
Today, no one keeps a box. And no one has confidence in judging quality. It could hit them between the eyes and their response is always the same: let's put more teams on this. Let's second guess what the client's thinking. Let's (because we don't know) panic and do more work.
Confidence, for me, did not come easy.
Judgment and taste were the result of hard work.
More people could use a box.