Looking at the top U.S. magazine advertisers from 1913 to 1929 shows a lot of familiar brands. Proctor & Gamble, the leading magazine advertiser in 1913, was also the largest U.S. advertising spender from 1963 to 1986 and 1991 to 1996. Quaker Oats, Colgate, Kodak, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Goodyear Tire, B.F. Goodrich, and General Electric, among other familiar names, were all leading magazine advertisers in 1913. Having a brand name become well known is an enduring asset. Astonishing new communications technologies developed since 1913 haven’t obliterated brand names established with primitive print technology.
The distributional shape of print advertising spending among companies ranked by print advertising spending has changed little with the development of radio, television, and other new advertising media. In the 1920s, the largest 75 U.S. national magazine advertisers, placed in descending order of advertising spending, are well described by a power law distribution. The approximating linear slope of the distribution in log(ad spending) vs log(rank) space is -0.47. The top 75 U.S. print advertisers in 1999 had a corresponding approximating slope of -0.54. The scale of advertising spending has grown enormously along with the economy at a whole. But the shape of the leading advertiser distribution, like the share of total advertising in GDP and average advertising to sales ratios across companies, changed little from the 1920s to the end of the century.
This regularity is consistent with an analogous regularity in the company-size distribution and with company size determining advertising expenditure. Economists have long recognized that power laws describe well company size distributions, as well as many distributions of symbolic goods, including given names. If advertising spending is is a multiplicative share of company size (total sales), then the advertising spending distribution will have a distribution like that of company size.
* * * * *
 Based on Ad Age’s list of leading national advertisers, 1954-1997, summarized in Robert Coen, “Marketing elite,” p. 128 in Advertising Age Special Issue, The Advertising Century (1999). The leading advertiser from 1955 to 1962 was General Motors, and from 1987 to 1989, Phillip Morris.
 Total U.S. advertising spending in 1999 was roughly 200 times greater than in 1913. See the Coen Ad Expenditure Dataset. The largest print advertising spender in 1999, Macy’s Department Stores, spent roughly 100 times more than the largest print advertising spender in 1913. I estimate the latter assuming that the Crowell list covers 40% of magazine advertising for the leading advertiser (Proctor & Gamble) and that magazine advertising account for half of total print advertising.
Data: Here’s the top 75 U.S. national magazine advertisers from 1913 to 1929 as an Excel workbook, with advertising expenditure calculated from Crowell’s magazine set and reported in Crowell’s National Markets & National Advertisers. Here’s data from Ad Age on the Top 200 U.S. advertisers in 1999 as an Excel workbook. The top 75 print advertisers within this latter set probably is a good approximation for the top 75 print advertisers over-all. In any case, those data are the basis for the 1999 estimate reported above.