Comedian Fred Allen (1894-1956) wrote in Treadmill to Oblivion (1954):
“To me, an advertising agency is 85 per cent confusion and 15 per cent commission.”
The quotation has been frequently cited in books and articles about advertising. However, Time magazine in 1954 called this line of the book an “old saw.”
The precise origin of the line is unknown, but Fred Allen had been using it since at least 1943 and 1945. The book Life in a Putty Knife Factory (1943) by H. Allen Smith credited Fred Allen’s line, “And his (Fred Allen’s—ed.) description of an advertising agency is this: ‘Eighty-five per cent confusion and fifteen per cent commission.’” The American Magazine in 1945 explained, “He (Fred Allen—ed.) described one advertising agency as ‘85 per cent confusion and 15 per cent commission.’”
Wikipedia: Fred Allen
Fred Allen (born John Florence Sullivan; May 31, 1894 – March 17, 1956) was an American comedian whose absurdist, topically pointed radio show (1932–1949) made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the Golden Age of American radio.
Life in a Putty Knife Factory
By H. Allen Smith
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Co.
And his (Fred Allen’s—ed.) description of an advertising agency is this: “Eighty-five per cent confusion and fifteen per cent commission.”
The American Magazine
He (Fred Allen—ed.) described one advertising agency as “85 per cent confusion and 15 per cent commission.”
Treadmill to Oblivion
By Fred Allen
Boston, MA: Little, Brown
To me, an advertising agency is 85 per cent confusion and 15 per cent commission.
The only out-of-the-ordinary feature was a TV book review of Fred Allen’s Treadmill to Oblivion, which tells the story of the life and death of his famed radio show. Allen read some acid commentary on the industry (including the old saw that “advertising is 85% confusion and 15% commission"), and there was a pleasant nostalgia to his re-creation of Allen’s Alley.
(The television show Omnibus—ed.)
The Trouble with Advertising
By John E. O’Toole
New York, NY: Times Books
I’ll conclude with a definition of advertising by Fred Allen: “85% confusion and 15% commission.”
The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations
By Robert Andrews
New York, NY: Columbia University Press
An advertising agency is 85 percent confusion and 15 percent commission.
FRED ALLEN (1894-1957}, U.S. radio comic. Treadmill to Oblivion, pt. 2 (1954).
Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising
By Anthony Joseph Paul Cortese
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
An advertising agency is eighty-five percent confusion and fifteen percent commission. —Fred Allen
The Patna carnival
Posted: Jun 14, 2010 at 0115 hrs IST
When American comedian Fred Allen said advertising is 85 per cent confusion and 15 per cent commission, he certainly could not have foreseen the slapstick comedy in Patna last week.