Mr. Thurm's infamous quote about advertising-"With no ads, who would pay for the media? The good fairy?"- still is often cited in advertising books and discussions. Hailing Mr. Thurm's retirement in July of 1985, former New York Times advertising columnist Philip H. Dougherty said the executive, "as much as any man, deserves the title Mr. Advertiser."
Mr. Thurm came to Lever Bros. after a decade at Young & Rubicam and stayed 17 years, becoming VP-advertising and literally changing the face of the company and the country's TV commercials. Under his direction, in August 1963, Lever Bros. solicited from its agencies ideas on how to more effectively use blacks and other minorities in its advertising and became one of the first major advertisers to run commercials featuring minorities. One commercial Lever ran from BBDO for Wisk detergent showed two boys, one white and the other black, playing baseball. Lever said at the time the move was "good business."
While at Lever, Mr. Thurm began serving on industry associations, becoming chairman of the board of the American Advertising Federation, chairman of the Advertising Research Foundation and vice chairman of the Advertising Council.
Mr. Thurm headed the search committee that hired now-retired Howard Bell as the first president of the American Advertising Federation. "He was frank; he was open," Mr. Bell remembered. "He didn't beat around the bush at all."
After retiring from Lever in 1973, Mr. Thurm became senior VP of the Association of National Advertisers, a role that effectively made him marketers' Washington lobbyist. He later was named chairman. In 1985 he retired to Florida and, while living in Boca Raton, taught advertising at Florida Atlantic University for 15 years.
Mr. Thurm also played an unwitting role in helping to break a major Advertising Age story in 1971. In Ad Age's 75th anniversary issue, Editor in Chief Rance Crain, with the participants' permission, told the tale of how he discovered the identity of the incoming chairman of the National Advertising Review Board.
gave key name
After a long chase yielded no information about the closely guarded identity of the new NARB chairman, Mr. Crain tapped Milton Mumford, then chairman of Lever Bros., for help. He asked Mr. Mumford to query his VP-advertising-Mr. Thurm-who was on the NARB board, for the name of the new chairman. He complied, and Mr. Thurm's response yielded a front-page scoop on the appointment of Charles Yost.
In March 2005, Mr. Crain wrote: "Many years ago I told Sam Thurm how we broke the story. Sam, now retired and living in Florida, said he'd always wondered why Mr. Mumford wanted to know who the new head of the NARB was. As I suspected, Sam confirmed that Mr. Mumford never mentioned that a guy from Ad Age was on the phone wanting information on the head of some then-obscure self-regulatory organization. And, as Sam said, you don't argue with the chairman of the board."
A memorial service is planned for Mr. Thurm, who is survived by two sons and his second wife, Arlene.