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A New Brand of Business

A New Brand of Business: Charles Coolidge Parlin, Curtis Publishing Company, and the Origins of Market Research

Douglas B. Ward
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    A New Brand of Business
    Book Description:

    Charles Coolidge Parlin was considered by many to be the founder of market research. Working for the dominant Curtis Publishing Company, he revolutionized the industry by providing added value to advertisers through information about the racial, ethnic, and regional biases of readers and consumers. By maintaining contact with both businesses and customers, Parlin and Curtis publications were able to turn consumer wants into corporate profits.

    InA New Brand of Business,Douglas Ward provides an intriguing business history that explains how and why Curtis developed its market research division. He reveals the evolution and impact of Parlin's work, which understood how readers and advertisers in the emerging consumer economy looked at magazines and advertisements. Ward also examines the cultural and social reasons for the development and use of market research-particularly in regard to Curtis' readership of upper-income elites. The result weaves the stories of Parlin and Curtis into the changes taking place in American business and advertising in the early twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0017-8
    Subjects: Business, Marketing & Advertising

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Charles Coolidge Parlin gathered the notes for his speech, strode to the lectern, and looked out at the crowd of colleagues who had gathered in his honor. Three hundred fi fty people from businesses and universities across the country had crowded into the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia that night—June 5, 1936—to pay tribute to the man they considered the founder of market research. Parlin, the manager of the Division of Commercial Research for Curtis Publishing Company since 1911, was hailed that evening as a visionary, a pioneer, an originator of the concepts and ideas of market research....

  5. 1 A New Era of Business
    (pp. 16-39)

    Advertising had always seemed like a fairly straightforward job to Stanley Latshaw, head of Curtis Publishing’s advertising office in Boston. Like a custom tailor, an adman tried to assess a customer, pay him due deference, and then create an advertisement that fit like a properly sewn garment, hiding the flaws while accentuating the positive. A good adman took what he could find about a client’s product, wrote copy as speedily and as inexpensively as possible, and did his best to tell the advertiser’s story. There was no use worrying about broader things like trade conditions or industry trends, or even...

  6. 2 An Unlikely Leader
    (pp. 40-57)

    On the surface, Charles Coolidge Parlin was an unlikely candidate for a job in an advertising department. He was thirty-eight years old and had worked nearly his entire adult life as a high school principal and teacher. He had never worked in advertising or publishing, and he never had any such aspirations. During a job interview in 1911, Edward W. Hazen, Curtis’s advertising director, asked Parlin what qualifications he thought he had for a position as a researcher on Curtis’s advertising staff. Parlin was momentarily stumped. He eventually replied: “I think the most valuable one is that, not knowing anything...

  7. 3 What Was Commercial Research?
    (pp. 58-75)

    In his reports for Curtis Publishing Company, Charles Coolidge Parlin seized upon both the emerging agenda and the trusted ideals of American business to provide himself a foundation of credibility. The thinking behind his early research reports represented many of the principal concerns of contemporary business and industry: the potential of national advertising, the importance of the consumer, the potential of national and regional markets, the value of expert opinion, the future of the jobber and the retailer, the potential and also the weaknesses of government data. He also followed a line of thinking that had long been espoused in...

  8. 4 Winning over the Skeptics
    (pp. 76-90)

    The potential of Parlin’s first report, not to mention the Division of Commercial Research as a whole, was difficult for many in the Curtis organization to see in the beginning. Parlin’s early research was taken lightly by many company executives and staff members who were no doubt uneasy about basing their livelihood on someone else’s untested observations.¹ In its bookSelling Forcesin 1912, the company emphasized that advertising agencies were expected to investigate the marketplace to better serve customers—something Curtis had been doing since mid-1911. During the Division of Commercial Research’s first two years, however, the company made...

  9. 5 Barbarians, Farmers, and Consumers
    (pp. 91-114)

    Curtis Publishing Company began mailing out dozens of questionnaires to readers of its publications in the 1910s. Most were one- or two-page surveys about reading and buying habits, along with form letters asking people to complete and send back the enclosures. The replies that trickled in were often personal and thoughtful, with notes attached or scrawled in the margins of the surveys. “Four years ago last October my wife and myself gave up city life for the country,” a New York farmer wrote in response to a survey for Curtis’s farm magazine,Country Gentleman, in 1916. “We had an old...

  10. 6 Readers as Consumers
    (pp. 115-140)

    As Charles Coolidge Parlin researched department stores and textiles in 1913, he began to realize that many of the workings of the marketplace depended not so much on strategy and science as on whim. Distribution was certainly an important factor. So were such things as product availability, salesmanship, product displays, and advertising. He did his best to analyze those factors for Curtis Publishing and its advertisers and to point out weaknesses in business strategy and possibilities in the marketplace.

    Not long after he began his work for Curtis, though, he began to see that those factors were meaningless if a...

  11. 7 Chasing the Consumer, Protecting the Company
    (pp. 141-167)

    As the United States economy started moving out of a postwar depression in the early 1920s, Charles Coolidge Parlin predicted good times ahead. Bank transactions reached near-record levels in 1923. Railroads were hauling record numbers of freight cars. Cities were building houses, office towers, and roads. Farming was starting to bounce back after two difficult years. The number of income tax returns more than doubled between 1917 and 1921. Advertising revenue was growing healthily. The number of high school students had increased by a factor of five since 1890. More education meant that more workers had an ability to earn...

  12. 8 The Legacy of Commercial Research
    (pp. 168-182)

    As Curtis Publishing and its advertisers looked for ways to survive the Great Depression, the company intensified its work in market research. During the 1930s, Parlin’s division conducted surveys in such areas as private brands, the life insurance and construction industries, household appliances, and home furnishings, and it updated studies of the automobile industry and the farm market. It also continued to find innovative ways of acquiring information, studying brand loyalty in food products with a survey of home pantries and an analysis of trash in Philadelphia neighborhoods. The division still did not provide any direct revenue, but the company...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 183-184)

    Parlin retired from Curtis Publishing in 1937 and moved to Florida from the Germantown section of Philadelphia. He traveled extensively after leaving the company, and in 1939 he asked to go back to work part time as a spokesman for Curtis Publishing. The company agreed, and during the ensuing three years, Parlin represented Curtis at several meetings and conventions. He grew increasingly reflective and philosophical about his career and about advertising. His speeches from the time show a man coming to grips with the end of his life, feeling the need to justify the nearly thirty years he had spent...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 185-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-228)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)