[Ads-l] Saying: Half the money spent on advertising is wasted, but no one knows which half

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 12 00:09:05 UTC 2022

Way back in 2012 Arnold Zwicky posted about the saying in the subject
line, and I replied with a few citations.

After a brief decade delay, a Quote Investigator article has now been posted.

The earliest match in 1919 was located by Barry Popik, and it is
listed in "The New Yale Book of Quotations".

I found a partial match in the New York periodical "Printers' Ink: A
Journal for Advertisers" in 1890:

[Begin excerpt]
… don’t forget that half of the money spent in advertising is wasted …
[End excerpt]

I also discovered that "The East Kent Times" of England in 1931
reported on a speech delivered by businessman William Hulme Lever who
co-founded Unilever. He ascribed the saying to his father William
Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme) who had died in 1925:

[Begin excerpt]
His father used to say that half the money spent in advertising was
wasted, but he was unable to say which half it was. In order to solve
the problem they had not only to study the commodity they were
advertising but the public which they were trying to appeal to.
[End excerpt]

[Begin acknowledgement]
Great thanks to George Mannes and Arnold Zwicky whose inquiries led QI
to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special
thanks to pioneering researchers Ralph Keyes, Barry Popik, Nigel Rees,
and Fred R. Shapiro. Keyes’s book "The Quote Verifier" pointed out
that the saying had been attributed to John Wanamaker, William Hesketh
Lever, William Wrigley Jr., and George Washington Hill. Popik located
the key 1919 attribution to John Wanamaker.
[End acknowledgement]

Feedback welcome
Garson O'Toole

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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