“Advertising Is Legalized Lying” and Other Inspirational Quotes To Remind Us Why We Love Our Business

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Feeling a little overloaded and need a spark to reignite your passion for the advertising game? Well, this post might be for you…

Advertising is inescapable.  And whether you adore it, detest it, or somewhere in between. While it’s been around for centuries in basic forms, the 19th century saw its rise in newspapers and magazines, and the 20th century witnessed its explosion with radio and television commercials.

The early days of advertising agencies were a time of innovation, and the pioneers of the industry left us with some incredibly insightful words. These quotes are still remarkably relevant today, even in our complex, programmatic world saturated with banner ads.

Inspired by these wise words, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite quotes on advertising. Whether you’re a newbie just starting your advertising journey or a seasoned veteran reflecting on the industry’s evolution (for better or worse!), these quotes offer valuable perspectives on the multifaceted world of advertising, where creativity, commerce, praise, and criticism collide.

I’ve learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.” 

– Leo Burnett. Why it’s great: Because it should resonate with every client who’s ever been tempted to tinker with great advertising copy and perhaps shirked an element of risk to make advertising great.

Political advertising ought to be stopped. It’s the only really dishonest kind of advertising that’s left. It’s totally dishonest.”

– David Ogilvy. Does this really need any explanation?

Advertising is legalized lying.”

– H. G. Wells. OK, so this one’s a bit extreme, but in the context of Mr. Ogilvy’s quote about political advertising it’s probably not far from the truth.

A magazine is simply a device to induce people to read advertising.”

– James Collins. Well, he’s got a point when Vogue Magazine’s content is about 60% advertising.

I have been asked what would I ban immediately if I could. Advertising.”

– Vivienne Westwood. And Ms. Westwood also has a point – particularly if her collection was sandwiched somewhere in-between all those pages of ads.

Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.

– David Ogilvy. I love this because it’s highly debatable and thought provoking, and perhaps even more relevant in today’s online world than when he originally said it.

An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.”

— Bill Bernbach. I hope this resonates with anyone and everyone who works in an agency and serves as a warning to all marketers who might be tempted to squash an idea to quickly.

Facts are irrelevant. What matters is what the consumer believes.”

— Seth Godin. I chose this quote over Bill Bernbach’s ‘the most powerful element in advertising is the truth’ because I think this is what advertising is really all about. And while the truth always matters, success stands or falls on consumer belief and behaviour.

We want consumers to say, ‘That’s a hell of a product’ instead of, ‘That’s a hell of an ad.

— Leo Burnett. To me this is a guiding principle that both advertisers and their agencies should use as their work pole star and perhaps be the acid test for signing-off on an idea.

Let’s say you have $1,000,000 tied up in your little company and suddenly your advertising isn’t working and sales are going down. And everything depends on it. Your future depends on it, your family’s future depends on it, other people’s families depend on it. Now, what do you want from me? Fine writing? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?”

– Rosser Reeves. Are you sweating or smiling with this one?

These are my favourites and I hope some of these quotes inspire you as much as they inspire me – to do better, try harder, speak up, make your voice heard and be the best that our business can offer.

Enough said, I think.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed 

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