think. feel. do.
do. feel. think.
feel. do. think.


A Brief History of Copy Testing

"The trade of advertising is now so close to perfection that it is not easy to propose any improvement."

                                                Samuel Johnson, 1697


It is said that the roots of advertising theory can be traced back to Aristotle's principles of persuasive rhetoric. Professional advertising research can be verifiably traced to the beginning of the 20th century and is largely the outcome of academic research projects and the early adoption and development by advertising agencies studying advertising effectiveness.

On the academic side, Walter Dill Scott, who taught advertising psychology at Northwestern University, conducted a program of advertising research for the Agate Club of Chicago in 1901. Daniel Starch began by teaching an advertising psychology course at the University of Wisconsin in 1909. Edward K. Strong, Jr., a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University, published several early books relevant to research methodology, e.g., Psychological Methods as Applied to Advertising (1913) and The Effect of Size of Advertisements and Frequency of Their Presentation (1914). And George Gallup's work took shape from research he had done during professorships at the University of Iowa, Drake University and Northwestern University.

On the advertising side, Stanley Resor of J. Walter Thompson was one of the early adopters of copy research and by 1910, advertising research had become part of the portfolio of several leading agencies.

It is interesting to note that, even in those early days of ad research, there was strong debate about research methodology as well as on issues that concern us still today, viz., memorability of advertisements, message comprehension, believability, executional devices, etc. Also, as with today, advertising research involved field, lab and survey techniques.

The following is a modest attempt to trace the key developments in advertising research from the beginning of the twentieth century until today.

The 1920s