The phrase is attributed to Frederick R. Barnard but that’s not quite correct. The phrase is actually an amalgamation of two advertising campaigns and not, as is oftentimes claimed, solely from a 1927 advertisement in the advertising trade journal, Printers’ Ink.
In the December 8, 1921 issue, the slogan was: ”One Look is Worth A Thousand Words.” It referred to the benefits of advertising with pictures on street cars.
In the March 10, 1927 issue, the slogan was: ”One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words.” This referred to a baking soda ad campaign conducted by Barnard’s firm. To give the ad more kick, Barnard’s firm claimed it was a Chinese proverb so that people would take it more seriously. And, as was the case in the early 20th century, Chinese proverbs were immediately credited to Confucious because he is the best known of all Chinese philosophers.
However, even with amalgamating both ads from Printers’ Ink together, Barnard is not the first person to come up with this idea. That honour goes to newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane of the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club. In March 1911 — a decade before Barnard’s 1921 advertisement – Brisbane gave an instructional talk wherein he stated: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”