Many of the modern copy testing techniques can be traced back to the research work initiated in the 1930s.
In 1931, Dr. George Gallup applied the Recognition method to measure noting and reading of advertising in Liberty Magazine and its competitors. The Gallup approach was innovative as it used actual readers of specific magazine issues as opposed to studies that used students in unnatural, forced exposure situations.
In 1932, after professorships at Iowa, Drake, and Northwestern, where he taught journalism and psychology, Gallup set up the first copy research department at Young & Rubicam. It was at Y&R that he also established a national interviewing staff and launched a Radio Listenership method based on coincidental recruiting procedures. During the late 1930s, dissatisfaction with the Ad Recognition method led Gallup to develop a new testing protocol, which was based on proven, brand-aided recall and the introduction of several additional metrics, including sales point playback and urge to buy. His focus became memorability, communication and persuasion.
In 1933, Daniel Starch began a syndicated service based on the Recognition method. In it, respondents were asked whether they noted advertisements in a magazine, and, if so, whether they read most of it. The Starch recognition test was popular because it collected quantifiable information regarding the effectiveness of general consumer magazine advertising, and a small number of interviews could be used to project the cost per reader. Also, the fact that the service was marketed as a very inexpensive method boosted its appeal.
In the early 1930s, Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr. used a Share of Sales criterion to gauge marketing and advertising effectiveness. This was established by auditing sales of products sold through food and drug stores. In 1936, Nielsen attached audiometers to families’ radios. The audiometer, originally developed at MIT, automatically recorded radio operations and allowed researchers to estimate audience size for particular radio broadcasts. This gave rise to what is now known as “Nielsen Ratings,” which projects audience size based on household-by-household samples.
The 1930s were also the time when physiological measures were applied to gauge audience response to commercials. In the early 1930s, Dr. Darrell Lucas and Dr. James Weinland of New York University began to test printed display advertisements by connecting students to a psycho-galvanometer, or lie detector. Others used eye-tracking to trace the path of a reader’s eyes in scanning advertisements. While these particular techniques did not take deep root, variations of the approaches still continue.
In 1938, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) published a compendium of copy testing methods titled “Copy Testing.” This was the initial effort to compile a resource of the then current knowledge about copy testing.