When I was at Chevrolet's advertising agency in Detroit, we were the biggest thing in town. Those were the days when automotive clients made Detroit second only to New York in advertising volume, and no brand in America spent more money on advertising than Chevy. Every art director and copywriter within 5 hours' drive wanted to work on those big-budget, splashy ads and TV commercials.
A lot of the job applicants had never been in advertising, but knew they had the ability because their relatives told them so. Many had done their homework and knew something about our agency and who our clients were. Others simply showed up in their Sunday best, hoping somehow to luck into a job.
We had a way of helping us decide who had promise. Our "creative test" was about three pages of opportunities for greatness --- challenging problems to be solved creatively. Here is my attempt to reconstruct and update one of the hypothetical problems:
"The 2011 Chevy Big Sur is a wonderful family car. It seats six comfortably, has easy-to-clean leatherette upholstery, a solid oak steering wheel, extra-wide sunroof, and the most spacious trunk of any sedan in its class (to accommodate skis and eight good-size suitcases). It new Turbolite cast aluminum engine conveniently runs on water. The Big Sur comes in 17 Eurogloss colors, including two-tone versions in the school colors of every Big Ten and Pac Ten school. Right now there's a "College Reward" rebate of $3,000 for those who have graduated in the last two years, so don't wait. You can't find a better combination of features and benefits! Create a two page, full-color magazine ad for this car."
Can you do an ad based on the above? Everyone who took the test did. Most didn't do well. There is a specific solution we were looking for.
Here's an approximation of another problem. We showed a picture of an 11-year-old boy sitting on the front porch (the stoop) of a small apartment building. We asked the applicants to use this picture for an ad for any product or brand they chose, and write the headline. One applicant did particularly well on this one, with an ad for Polaroid film. We hired him. He went on to become Chairman and Creative Director of an international ad agency, with his name on doors throughout Europe and Asia.
Most of the people who did well thought the test was fun. Those that didn't thought it was hard. I graded about 75 of these and it was reasonably easy to tell who had it and who didn't.
As the New York policeman answered when the tourist asked him how to get to Carnegie Hall: "Practice, sir. Practice."
(Old joke, but appropriate.)