Muhammad Ali? Laila Ali? David Beckham? Aimee Lehto? Boyd Coyner? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A forceful statement about overcoming obstacles and adversity begins with the following statement:
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men . . .
These words are usually attributed to the famous U.S. boxer Muhammad Ali, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: In 2004 the athletic shoe and sportswear company Adidas ran a global advertising campaign. Aspirational sports figures such as Muhammad Ali, Laila Ali (his daughter), and David Beckham were featured in the blitz. The ad copy included the following striking passage which appeared in uppercase text superimposed on pictures of these sports heroes. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
IMPOSSIBLE IS JUST A BIG WORD THROWN AROUND BY SMALL MEN WHO FIND IT EASIER TO LIVE IN THE WORLD THEY’VE BEEN GIVEN THAN TO EXPLORE THE POWER THEY HAVE TO CHANGE IT. IMPOSSIBLE IS NOT A FACT. IT’S AN OPINION. IMPOSSIBLE IS NOT A DECLARATION. IT’S A DARE. IMPOSSIBLE IS POTENTIAL. IMPOSSIBLE IS TEMPORARY.
IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING.
The header picture for this article shows images of Muhammad Ali and Laila Ali with the superimposed text. Further below is a picture of David Beckham with the text adjacent. Yet, none of these athletes crafted the passage.
The campaign was created for Adidas by the advertising organization TBWA. The manifesto was written by creative professional Aimee Lehto, and the keystone line “Impossible is nothing” was crafted by fellow creative Boyd Coyner. They both deserve credit for the memorable words as indicated in the “Advertising Age” citation presented together with other information below.
- 2004 February 9, Sports Illustrated, Volume 100, Number 5, (Multipage advertisement inserted after the Letters section), Start Page 15, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with microfilm and scans) ↩