’I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I’m not
sure which half’. Of all the invincible quotes about advertising, this
is perhaps the most damning. Yet it has been impossible to find out who
said it and in what context.
Was it Lord Leverhulme, who was responsible for launching Sunlight Soap
in its own packaging - before 1884, soap had been sold as a commodity -
and thus marking the beginning of the brand? Or was it the US retail
merchant, John Wannamaker?
Perhaps it was neither of them. Thanks to some sleuthing by Winston
Fletcher, no stranger to the witty aphorism himself, we now have a third
It turns out that Adolph S. Ochs, who bought the New York Times in 1896,
turned it round from near bankruptcy and coined the slogan, ’all the
news that’s fit to print’, had a pretty cynical take on adland too.
Addressing the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World in 1916, he
said: ’I affirm that more than 50 per cent of money spent on advertising
is squandered and is a sheer waste of printer’s ink because little
thought and less intelligence are applied and ordinary common sense is
Personally, I wish no-one had said it - or perhaps that they had said it
about a more worthy target, such as cost consultants or headhunters.
It’s a daft statement, suggesting some immutable law of waste in the
And what does it mean? That half the people who see each ad ignore it,
while the other half reach for their cheque book? That the first 20
seconds of each commercial work, while the last 20 bomb? That every
alternate piece of direct mail will pull a huge response, while the
others will end up in the bin, unopened?
A present-day Leverhulme, Wannamaker or Ochs would do better to halve
their advertising budget, check out the new methods for assessing
advertising effectiveness - oh, and buy better advertising.