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Title:Toward a cultural history of advertising research: A case study of J. Walter Thompson, 1908-1925
Author(s):Kreshel, Peggy Jean
Department / Program:Communications
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Business Administration, Marketing
History, Modern
Mass Communications
Abstract:This study examines the development of research at J. Walter Thompson from 1908-1925. During those years, the research enterprise, largely a vision of one man, Stanley B. Resor, achieved institutional dimensions within that agency. Resor's belief in discoverable laws of human behavior and in the role of advertising as a marketing tool reflected larger societal themes of "science," "efficiency," and "control." For Resor, "science" was equated with the accumulation of "facts." As such, a number of mechanisms to facilitate fact-finding were installed in the agency. The existence of these mechanisms and their implementation helped to rationalize the advertising process, at the same time legitimizing a reality in which decision making based upon carefully-gathered information assumed a role of prominence.
A number of widely-promoted Thompson investigations were undertaken, purportedly in an effort to interject science into the advertising process. However, little evidence of application of the findings of the studies is found. This raises the possibility that the investigations, regardless of their initial motivations, were primarily "exemplars," that is, symbols of competence. This further suggests that, the fact that the research was undertaken might have been more important than the actual outcome of the research or the application of the findings to a particular problem.
These findings challenge the "common lore" explanation that research emerged during the Great Depression as an effort to bring rationality to an uncertain marketplace. It suggests that the set of conventions that came to be labeled "advertising research" emerged considerably earlier. And, although perhaps in part a response to uncertainty, the research institution can be seen more so as a mechanism to improve advertising efficiency inherently fused with a desire to achieve professional stature. As such, the gathering of information was a ritualistic assurance to a science-conscious business community that an appropriate attitude about decision making existed within the agency.
Issue Date:1989
Rights Information:Copyright 1989 Kreshel, Peggy Jean
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI8924866
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI8924866

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