17 times The Economist stopped us dead in our tracks.

Written by Cole Schafer


The Economist has been around for 170 years. There are just a handful of companies I’ve covered here at Honey Copy that have had this lengthy of an existence and they either sell cars or toothpaste.

To live this long (whilst selling newspapers of all things) you must not only possess a damn good product, but you must consistently create damn good advertising to sell said damn good product.

The Economist has done this magically, time and time again…

17 Economist Ads that’ll make you look twice.

For decades now, The Economist has been running a series of surprisingly simple minimalistic ads boasting short, witty copy.

They sport an almost cherry red background along with a white (very legible) font that feels both refreshing and intelligent to the onlooker.

The concept was originally thought up by the late, great David Abbott who was also the mastermind behind many of Volvo’s advertisements. Abbott discovered a way to say “this magazine makes you smarter and more successful” without outright saying “this magazine makes you smarter and more successful”.

While he has since passed, his spirit and copywriting brilliance lives on in the ads they still run to this day.

We’ll kick things off with the ads David Abbott himself wrote and then delve into the ones The Economist has ran after his death.

1. Money talks, but sometimes it needs an interpreter. (Abbott)

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Arguably the most iconic Economist ad of all time.

2. In real life, the tortoise loses. (Abbott)

Okay, so I am not actually going to post pictures of the original ads for all of these, because some of them are of absurdly shitty quality. So, for a handful of them, just the copy in red font will have to suffice.

Also, while I adore David Abbott, this one just didn’t do it for me for some reason. It kind of came across as cheesy? Maybe it’s just me.

3. It’s lonely at the top, but at least there’s something to read. (Abbott)

I can’t help but applaud the edginess and “nose in the air” vibe of this one. It feels very Nike.

(Wait, Did Abbott ever work on Nike?)

4. Do you suffer from sharp, stabbing pains in the back? We may be too late to help you. (Abbott)

It appears that David Abbott used a bit of black magic in this… something called “fear-based marketing”.

Listerine blew up a good while back using this exact same tactic and inventing Halitosis in the process.

5. Want to go far? Sometimes a newsagent can be more helpful than a travel agent. (Abbott)

Again, like #2, this one just didn’t really do it for me.

It’s cute.

But, I wonder how effective it was in selling more subscriptions?

Whose to say.

6. Who gets the office copy first? precisely. (Abbott)

The very best ads are the ones that require a second take… they perfectly walk the line between witty and perhaps overly clever. Of David Abbott’s work for The Economist, this was by far my favorite.

At first glance I thought… “huh?”

Then I looked again and realized… “Oh shit, the boss gets the office copy first.”

7. “Enocomsit rdeeras avhe lradaye wrkode ti uot.”

I stared at the above ad for more time than I’d care to admit.

When it finally hit me, I got a pretty good snicker…

“Economist readers have already worked it out.”

Clever bastards.

8. 99% of 1%ers are subscribers.

Turn of phrase has always made for good headlines and billboard copy. It’s advice that legendary copywriter Thomas Kemeny gives in his beautiful book, Junior.

9. Enjoy your own company.

Neither Forbes nor Entrepreneur Magazine could touch this headline if their publication depended on it. Only The Economist could figure out a way to say “start your own business” so poetically, so elegantly.

10. We cover more assets than Playboy.

I bet you do.

11. Trump Donald.

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They got political.

But, you can get away with getting political if you’re clever.

Need I bring Nike into the conversation?

12. Where guesses become educated.

Do you remember the turn of phrase I mentioned in #2?

Apparently some witty copywriter over at the Miami Ad School read Kemeny’s book.

13. “I never read The Economist.” –– Management trainee, Age 42.

Again, this is one of the more iconic Economist ads (post Abbott era).

It works in a bit of the black magic I mentioned about the Abbott ad towards the beginning of this curation…

“Do you suffer from sharp, stabbing pains in the back? We may be too late to help you.”

Not unlike getting stabbed in the back, nobody wants to be stuck in the “Management trainee” role until they’re 42. In fact, I’d argue not being successful is a legitimate fear.

14. Not all mind expanding substances are illegal.

As a copywriter that moonlights as a poet, I liked this take. I imagine Hunter S. Thompson would have appreciated it too. I find it to be both funny and relevant right now with the popularization of LSD and Ayahuasca in Silicon Valley.

15. A gymnasium for the mind.




It certainly romanticizes the reading of The Economist. Like, getting your mental cardio in during the morning commute.

16. A poster should contain no more than eight words, which is the maximum the average reader can take in a at a single glance. This, however, is a poster for Economist readers.

This is by far the longest of all The Economist ads. It’s quite similar to a billboard that Chipotle ran a little while back with an equally long caption.

It’s a nice reminder to marketers, advertisers and copywriters that rules are meant to be broken. If everyone in your industry is playing by the same rules, it’s a pretty good sign that you need to grab a fucking hammer.

17. Lose the ability to slip out of meetings.

Does it get any better than this?

I’m not sure it does.

Let’s call it a day, sweep up the floor, flip over the open sign and close up shop.

There isn’t a better place to end.

Closing thoughts?

The Economist shows us that if you come up with something good, something damn good, it’s worth returning to again and again and again.

(Chick-Fil-A is another example of a company that came up with a great piece of advertising in their “Eat More Chicken” campaign… they’ve been running it for the past two decades.)

If you find a goldmine… keep mining the son of a bitch.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.