Tel: +61 2 95663100 | Contact

History of Market Research

Provided by the late Mike Larbalestier, Past Chairman - Federal Council - Australian Market & Social Research Society.

Market Research generally had its origins in social survey research in the United Kingdom. Some people even like to pretend the Doomsday Book was the first bit of systematic research - it may have been the first census but it was not a sample survey. Social sample survey research came from the enquiring minds of the great English liberal social reformers who were horrified by the conditions in which many of their countrymen were living and used carefully compiled factual reports to drive home the situation to their compatriots. The classics in English social survey research were: Mayhew's "London Life and London Poor" (1851), Charles Booth's monumental 17 volume study of "Labour and Life of the People of London" (1886), Rowntree's "Poverty: A study of Town Life" (1901) and Arthur Bowley's "Livelihood and Poverty" (1912).

In the meantime mathematicians in Europe had been developing sampling theory (originally for genetic experiments, then for agricultural purposes, and finally for quality control purposes in factory production processes), and bright young Dr Hollerith had been developing punched card equipment for the US Bureau of the Census. Freud had stimulated a great deal of thought about psychological processes and in particular the learning processes, so by the early 1900s not only the theoretical concepts, but also the practical tools were at hand for the first generalised use of social survey techniques in the marketing area.

As is not unusual, it was the advertising profession that led the way, with Claude Hopkins publishing his book on "Scientific Advertising" in 1912, although it was another 13 years before Daniel Starch brought out his book on "Principles of Advertising" (1925). By the 1930's, the large consumer companies in both the UK and the USA were into market research in a reasonably big way. Media research was recognised in the UK with the establishment of the BBC Listener Research Department in 1936, the same year that public opinion polling became a distinct sub-branch with the formation of the Gallup Poll.

Australia was not, in fact, far behind. The first recorded consumer study was carried out by Rudi Simmatt of J Walter Thompson in 1929, who also organised a study of the automobile market in 1930. J Walter Thompson was the original training ground of Australian market research pioneers Sylvia Ashby and Bill McNair, the latter of whom initiated the first studies of the radio audience in Australia in 1934. Sylvia Ashby opened the first independent market research company in Australia in 1936, with the McNair Survey being registered in 1944. The Roy Morgan Research Centre was established in 1941 to carry out Gallup Polls.