People have an eye for everything.
An eye for talent. An eye for value. An eye for an eye. Likewise, many of us in advertising have that ubiquitous eye for quality. Example: “Why will a picture of this peanut cost me a bomb?” Answer: “Because we can give you…” (wait for it), “… Quality.” And so the billing begins.
The lure of quality, no matter how ephemeral, rakes in the bucks. It is, after all, a noble pursuit. The art director who will travel 10 miles out-of-town to look for that perfect prop knows the anguish of quality. The typographer who will spend hours kerning a headline knows the frustration of quality. And the copywriter whose lucidity is blocked with ‘white paper blues’ knows the terror of quality. For many creative professionals, quality trademarks our passions and benchmarks our aspirations.
Once the relentless drive for quality has been driven by the few and the determined, its grip is unwavering and accumulative. The creatives who straddle mind-bending, life-changing ideas will rarely lasso a livestock of clichés. The designer who swims in the translucent ease of the latest Mac will question the sophistication of its predecessor. And the publisher who raises a dead word to a breathing experience on handmade paper will cremate its flat, matte counterpart — well, at least in spirit.
To be a charsee of quality, to use the vernacular, is an act of evolving dependence of psychotropic involvement. Like thick smoke, discoveries in one circle merge with and inspire discoveries in yet another. Onwards and upwards until there is a signature reel of connectivity. Perhaps this is why agencies that do ‘good work’ multiply their ‘goodness’? Good clients, good people, good standing and good omens seem like a natural extension of their good fortune.
Similarly, people dedicated to the pursuit of professional quality enjoy a higher, more personal quality of life. From their wardrobes to their living spaces, there is a seamlessness of association that seems to be the hallmark of their individuality and reputation. I know you can hear the ‘but’ just around the corner.
But an eye for quality is not the same as having an eye for taste. There is no guarantee, after all, that the guy who buys the finest brand of family car will deface it with a tail-fin and a leopard-skin interior. Or the client who wishes to amplify his sterling product strengths will romance them skilfully enough into our lifestyles. Or the account executive who gets an approval for an inventory of benefits will deliver them in single-minded doses. All of this requires what Brett Anderson, editorial writer at Robb Report, calls “the organizing faculty of taste.”
Assessed distinctly from the virtues of quality, taste is not a personal pronouncement, he explains, but “a principle of selection that guides our choices in order to accentuate the intrinsic value of an object, as well as its harmonious relation to other objects with which it is associated.” Which suggests that both quality and taste are neither contrived nor relative. But, like languages, they are a consolidated means of articulation. Objects (watches, ads, clothes, etc.) of high quality possess a natural syntax that governs the ways they communicate to people and to each other.
Taste, then, is merely a matter of detecting and respecting the grammar of this logic, such that, Anderson adds, “…our pleasure in and understanding of these (objects) transcends the sum of their parts.” At the end of the day, it is erudite distinctions such as these which point to a taste for quality in the first place.
So as we brace ourselves for the next few years of challenges and opportunities in advertising in Pakistan, we should dedicate our professions to the quality of what we do. Not in the TQM or ISSO way espoused by management journals, but, increasingly, as a measure of our collective vision. And, more importantly, the taste with which we administer such quality. Perhaps, then, some of us will find that the “organizing faculty” of this ability will reveal itself as a natural talent for our growth and legacy.