Paul A. Scipione. A Nation of Numbers: The Development of Marketing Research in America.
Publication expected 2007.
Comments: Practitioners in every field are inculcated with the collective
DNA of the practitioners who preceded them. Fortunately we marketing
research people come from excellent stock. Here are brief excerpts from
Profiles that I have written on the Best of the Best, in alphabetical order.
Dr. Ernest Dichter
"Most fields have their 'most colorful character'. Someone humorous, charming and full of life. Someone who inspires wild tales, even years after they have gone. In the MR business, arguably that person is the late Dr. Ernest Dichter. Even though he passed away more than a decade ago, his widow Heddy Dichter tells me that not a month goes by when at least one prospective client doesn't call, asking whether Dr. Dichter has time available to conduct a research study for them. Now . . . that's a reputation!
Dichter became larger-than-life as the primary exponent of a new MR paradigm, motivational research. He challenged conventional wisdom, developed a variety of promising new research techniques, and expoused several startling theories about what motivates consumers to buy. Along the way he conducted nearly 5,000 separate MR studies, trained more than a hundred budding consumer researchers, and - along with only the late Dr. George Gallup - became a genuine public celebrity, in a field whose practitioners are known for their anonymity.
Ernest Dichter fit perfectly everyone's stereotype of a Viennese psychoanalyst - mainly because he was a psychoanalyst from Vienna. Dichter was really the genuine article: short; thick glasses; thick accent; thoroughly ingratiating charm; and a slightly wacky, risque sense of humor. For even further authenticity, Dichter grew up directly across from Sigmund Freud's house on Freudstrasse in Vienna!
Although I only got to spend a few, episodic hours with Ernest Dichter during the last 15 years on his life, I knew that I was in the presence of both a genuine character and true genius. Always charming, with a raconteur's sense of storytelling, Dichter usually held a martini in one hand and a beautiful young lady in the other. Ernest Dichter was a loving husband to Heddy for nearly 60 years, but even she admitted that there had been periods during which their marriage had been "open," at least on Ernest's side.
The singlemost important event making Dichter a genuine celebrity . . . was publication of Vance Packard's best-selling book The Hidden Persuaders in 1957. It contained a detailed profile of Dr. Dichter, which soon led to an invitation for Dichter to be a guest on The Tonight Show on NBC with its then host Jack Paar. Dichter proved to be a charmer, confirming for millions of consumers that, yes, many of their purchases probably had been manipulated, but at the same time convincing them that they couldn't possibly hate such a delightful little Viennese psychoanalyst with bow tie, thick glasses, equally think accent and irrepressible sense of humor. The nationwide audience loved Dichter! So much so that NBC invited him back more than a dozen times.
Dichter's core beliefs were: (a) that the why question is just, if not even more, important than the what question when it comes to consumer behavior; (b) consumers often cannot readily articulate the motivations underlying their purchase decisions; and (c) meaning that a qualitative rather than quantitative research approach may produce significantly more insight into why consumers behave the way they do in the marketplace . . . . The world of MR is certainly much the better for Ernest Dichter having chosen to study consumers rather than practice psychoanalysis in Vienna.
Dr. George H. Gallup
"You really are as much a historian as researcher," I told the late Dr. George Gallup, three years before he died. He laughed and shook his head. "No, I'm really more a reporter. I report what Americans think and feel.
Always modest, George Gallup was a true renaissance man: both a journalist and researcher, as well as loving husband and father, inspiring academic, smart business man and technical innovator. Along the way he also became a household word, not only in the United States but in the farthest corners of the world as well. In a 1960 profile, the editors of Printers' Ink wrote: 'So clearly is Gallup identified with polling that the Greeks, who usually have a word for everything, have adopted "gallup" as their verb "to poll".
What ultimately propelled George Gallup into the national spotlight was an obscure 1932 election campaign. GHG's mother-in-law was running a seemingly hopeless campaign to become Secretary of State in Iowa. Mrs. Miller had virtually no name recognition and, even worse, no Democrat had won statewide office in Iowa since the Civil War. But Mrs. Miller's secret weapon was her son-in-law, who sent student interviewers out to all 101 counties in Iowa, where they asked citizens one key question: "What are you most worried about?" Gallup's poll helped Mrs. Miller craft different campaign strategies in each county. Her "miracle" victory was described in a newspaper article that caught the attention of Ray Rubicam in New York, co-founder of the prestigious Young & Rubicam advertising agency. Rubicam was successful in luring George Gallup away from his position as Chair of the Journalism Department at Northwestern University to organize the first professional research department at an ad agency.
I find it quite symbolic that Dr. George Gallup came in at the beginning and went out toward the end of the 20th century. His momentous life of 83-plus years nearly spanned MR's first century. In a very real sense, no one's life better reflects the first century of the MR business than does George Gallup's. In my opinion, one of the most significant insights Dr. Gallup left us was taking fellow researchers to task for often using quantitative surveys to answer the wrong kind of questions. Gallup wrote: "When I first came into marketing research, I found that why questions were being asked. But people usually can't tell you why. Gallup also rejected the unconscious motivations that were pushed by motivational (focus group) researchers and advocated his own alternative approach. "Researchers," he argued, "have failed to recognize the tremendous potential of getting consumers to reconstructed their buying decisions, recalling step-by-step the events leading up to a particular purchase. Consumers are good reporters." Certainly George Gallup was.
Arthur C. Nielsen
"You could say that ACN was an 'accidental marketing researcher.' When the Great Depression hit his small, financially vulnerable firm (measuring and testing technologies), ACN struggled to find another numbers-oriented service that he could offer. Adversity can make a person creative. He came up with two innovations - the Nielsen Drug Index (NDI) in 1933 and the Nielsen Radio Index (NRI) in 1936. These assured not only the survival of his company, but that ACNielsen Research would become the first MR firm to exceed a billion dollars in annual revenue.
The NDI was based on ACN's novel idea that he could develop a nationwide probability sample of drugstores. By sending his otherwise not-so-busy staff out once a month to audit such key brand statistics as purchase invoices and shelf stock, and then by plugging those numbers into a proprietary equation, he could produce sales and marketshare statistics for competitive brands of over-the-counter drug products. Big OTC companies such as Bristol-Myers, Johnson & Johnson, Lever Brothers and Procter & Gamble made the NDI an immediate financial success. For the first time they could track the impacts that such business "weapons" as advertising, price reductions and various product promotions had on the performance of their brands coast-to-coast. NDI presaged ACNielsen's UPC scanner-based electronic auditing by 60 years, although ironically, it was upstart Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) that forced Nielsen to embrace new electronic sales auditing technology. It was television ratings, though, that ACN and ACNielsen are forever linked to in the minds of consumers."
Dr. Alfred Politz
"One of the most abrasive figures in the marketing research business, Dr. Alfred Politz was also a human dynamo, single-mindedly pushing quantification and experimental designs. He was a superb teacher and mentor who produced dozens of disciples who themselves went on to MR fame. He completely dominated the development of new quantitative methods for advertising research for nearly three decades. He carried on a historic blood feud, that never really got resolved, with famed motivational researcher Ernest Dichter. Along the way he lived life in the fast lane - exhibiting classic character-istics of a manic-depressive. And his personal lifestyle was flamboyant, most would say even hedonistic. In the words of one of his acolytes, Andrew Heiskell (who became CEO of Time/Life): "He conveyed a sense of enormous energy - barely able to keep inside his skin. Alfred was a perpetual motion machine."
Alfred Politz was born in Berlin, Germany on July 6, 1902. A brilliant youth, especially with numbers, Politz finished high school at the age of 16 and then earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the Institute of Physics at Humboldt University at 22. Times were tough in post-World War I Germany and Politz eked out a living tutoring engineering students, winning a few boxing matches and by helping advertising agencies test print ads. During the 1930s Politz supplemented his income from his MR consultancy by marketing a German analgesic, Split Tablet, in Scandinavia.
But Alfred Politz despaired when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933. Worried that the Nazis would force him to use his Ph.D. in Physics to help develop new military weapons, Politz planned an escape to America. Contrary to rumor, Politz was not motivated to flee because he was Jewish - he was born a Roman Catholic. His frequent trips on behalf of Split Tablet, along with a friendship with the American chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, gave him the opening he was looking for. During a business trip to Sweden in 1937, Politz left with as much money as he could hide in his pockets. He had to turn his back on a profitable company in order to emigrate to New York at age 35. Desperate for work, Politz took a train to Chicago where he counted on William Wrigley giving him a job. But Wrigley gave him only a condescending pat on the back and two complimentary tickets to a Chicago Cubs game (Wrigley owned the team).
So how did Politz end up in the MR business? In an autobiographical paper found after his death, Politz wrote about the thought process that he went through: "Which profession makes the most money with the least intelligence? The answer was advertising." Politz managed to get a job as a project director with pioneer pollster Elmo Roper in New York. The friend who put them together, Richard Wood, was a senior editor of Fortune Magazine. Politz spent three restless years at Roper, pleased to have a dependable salary, but egotistical enough to dream about having his own MR firm. In 1943 Politz left Roper to become the Research Director at the Compton advertising agency. But less than a year later he was forced out for antagonizing Roger Humphries, the Research Director of Compton's largest account, Procter & Gamble. But Compton did provide Politz free office space. Politz quickly attracted Socony-Vacuum as a client and prospered. Within a couple years, Alfred Politz Research, Inc. (APRI) outgrew its small space at Compton and splurged on a bigger suite of offices in the Marguery Hotel at the corner of 48th and Madison. In less than 10 years, APRI grew to more than 200 full-time employees and such blue chip clients as Dupont, United Fruit, Anheuser-Busch, Kimberly-Clark, U.S. Steel, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, S.C. Johnson and Seagram's. Two factors in particular led to his meteoric rise: (1) his advocacy of random probability sampling; and (2) his influential, high-visibility studies for Life Magazine. Politz had become a genuine MR star. As one of his former assistants, Bob Golden, told me: "If a movie is ever made of Politz's life, the only guy who could play him would be Robin Williams!"