Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 8 November 2011



Brian Jones, D.G. (2011), "Editorial", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 3 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/jhrm.2011.41203daa.002



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Volume 3, Issue 4

Welcome to three new members of our Editorial Advisory Board – Pauline Maclaran, Royal Holloway, University of London; Thomas Powers, University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Stefan Schwarzkopf, Copenhagen School of Business. Stefan is also organizing the 2013 Conference on Historical Analysis & Research in Marketing (CHARM), which will be held in Copenhagen.

We are excited about this special issue on historical research methods in marketing, but before we get to that I would like to direct your attention to the back of this issue where you will find Stan Shapiro’s introduction to a new feature titled Teaching and Learning. During these first three years of publication of the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Stan has been our Associate Editor in charge of the Explorations & Insights (E&I) section. In fact, the E&I was Stan’s idea from the outset, and it has been a distinctive feature of JHRM. Effective with this issue, Stan is handing over that responsibility to Mark Tadajewski. However, we are fortunate that Stan will continue to be involved as an Associate Editor through the new Teaching and Learning section. One of our major initial objectives for the E&I was to feature material about teaching marketing history and the history of marketing thought. As Stan writes in his introduction to the T&L, that objective has been addressed through the E&I with some success. But increasingly the E&I is reserved for thematic collections not directly related to teaching. As I write this, the E&I for the next seven issues is already so reserved. Thus, we begin this new feature that will appear occasionally and will be dedicated to informing readers about materials directly related to teaching and learning about marketing history and the history of marketing thought. I will not repeat here what is already in Stan’s introduction, but please do read about this exciting and usable addition to JHRM. As for our continuing section on Explorations & Insights, Stan leaves big shoes to fill … but Mark Tadajewski has big feet!

Research methods and historical research in marketing

There are two primary target audiences for JHRM – historians, especially business historians, with an interest in marketing topics; and marketing scholars who are interested in history. The former typically have had training in history. The latter usually have none, but rather, are trained in the research methods of social science. Yet a growing number of those marketing scholars are interested in, and doing, historical research about marketing. As I have written in past editorials, some methodological transparency is advisable for authors submitting to JHRM and it is essential for submissions of historical research to other marketing periodicals. Over the last few years we at JHRM have been asked repeatedly to publish material about historical research methods in marketing and this entire issue targets that need.

Historians are not methodological zealots. As Ron Fullerton writes in this issue, they believe that methodology should be used but seldom explicitly discussed. They do not obsess about research methodology and have therefore written little about how to do historical research. Marketing historians have written even less in that connection. A seminal article in that sparse literature is Savitt’s (1980) “Historical research in marketing” which describes the social scientist’s approach to doing historical research, a deductive, hypothesis-testing approach that assumes the collection and analysis of quantitative data. As Savitt himself later admitted, it was a simplistic extension of logical positivism (Savitt, 2009, p. 194), not reflective of how the majority of historians conduct their craft but one with face validity for most marketing scholars trained in social science methodology. Golder (2000) made a similar case for the application of a scientific approach to history and illustrated it with a study of historical market share data for 650 brands. It was a useful application to marketing of a legitimate approach to doing historical research, but an uncommon one based on seldom available quantitative data. A broad survey of historical research in marketing (Jones, 2010) reveals that Cliometrics has played a very small role in this growing body of literature. The most common examples have used content analysis of advertising (see Schwarzkopf’s article in this issue for a discussion of the “semiotic paradigm”). A handful of other marketing authors have written about various elements of historical methodology. Nevett (1991) outlined an inductive approach to historical investigation and argued for its relevance to marketing practitioners. Smith and Lux (1993) explained the role of causality in historical research on consumption. Others have discussed periodization in marketing history (Hollander et al., 2005), the importance of historical context or “landscape” (Savitt, 2009), the philosophy of historical research in marketing (Fullerton, 1987), and biographical research as a method of studying the history of marketing thought (Jones, 1998; 2012, chapter one). I am aware of only one attempt to broadly survey the basic issues related to doing traditional, qualitative historical research in marketing (Witkowski and Jones, 2006).

The point is that there is clearly a need for more instruction about how to do historical research in marketing and this issue of JHRM addresses that need through the views of seven experienced marketing historians.

In this issue

The lead article is Ron Fullerton’s “Historical methodology: the perspective of a professionally trained historian turned marketer”. Fullerton really captures the essence of what we were trying to accomplish with this special issue – to introduce non-historians to the basic issues of doing historical research as they relate specifically to marketing. Fullerton discusses the need for good writing, the value of primary source material, the importance of historical context and of a critical reading of source materials, and the key issue of interpretation and explanation, which is the essence of historical analysis. One of Fullerton’s themes, the need for good writing, is expanded upon by Stephen Brown in “Yo, Clio? Can historiography save marketing scholarship?”.

Brown has firmly established himself as the authority on writing in marketing (Brown, 2005, 2008, 2009) and in his contribution to this issue he walks the walk. His article is brilliantly written and entertainingly informative. Brown argues that the marketing discipline (and therefore social science-trained marketing historians) has much to learn from historiography, the sub-discipline of history dedicated to the explication of historical writing. He compares and contrasts writing in history with writing in marketing, describes the key elements of effective historical writing, and concludes that if historiography cannot save marketing scholarship, it might at least provide a lifeline.

Primary historical source material (data) comes in several basic forms including documents, images, artifacts, and memories elicited through oral history methods. The latter is the topic of Andrea Davies’s “Voices passed”. Davies provides an extensive review of oral history theory and practice including its surprisingly limited use in marketing history. Davies notes the lack of consensus about basic principles of gathering oral history but draws out for readers many lessons and issues to be considered when doing oral history research.

Ron Savitt tackles one of my personal favorite forms of historical research in “On biography in marketing”. Savitt reviews the literature on doing biographical research and briefly surveys the growing body of biographical work in marketing. The essence of Savitt’s article is his discussion of the process of doing biographical research – gathering source material in its various forms, assessing those materials for reliability and validity, and the telling (writing) of biographical stories. These basic issues are then illustrated with Savitt’s own ongoing biographical research into the life and career of E.T. Grether.

I imagine that most historians collect something of historical interest whether it is books, or advertising, or what have you. Rick Pollay is well known for his research on advertising history and in “Biographic and bibliographic recollections re: collections and contributions” he uses an autobiographical approach to tell about his own long experience collecting advertising history. In this article we learn how Pollay fed his own research on advertising history by becoming a PAC-rat (paper and advertising collector). His autobiographical confessions about collecting are fascinating on their own, but Pollay also draws out for readers several important lessons about how to connect collecting with a productive program of historical research. Collectors should have a strategy. They should organize and document their collections, plan the size of their holdings as well as the space for storing and displaying them. Pollay also suggests several categories of collectibles for aspiring PAC-rats.

The title of Stefan Schwarzkopf’s article, “The subsiding sizzle of advertising history: methodological and theoretical challenges in the post advertising age”, paraphrases one of Pollay’s “landmark” articles that appeared in the Journal of Marketing in 1985. Schwarzkopf reviews the major research studies of advertising history published over the last three decades and discusses the range of theoretical and methodological approaches used. He identifies three research paradigms that have emerged in advertising history during this period: “modernization”, “Americanization”, and the “semiotic” paradigm. Because advertising is increasingly being replaced with more interactive forms of marketing communication, interest in advertising history is on the decline and faces a number of challenges. It is in danger of losing its “sizzle”, but Schwarzkopf believes the fire can be rekindled if advertising historians broaden their range of theoretical and methodological approaches.

Finally, Mark Tadajewski writes about “Producing historical critical marketing studies: theory, method and politics”. I think it is fair to state that Mark’s two primary areas of interest are marketing history and critical marketing, and in this article he explains the essential importance of historical research to critical marketing studies. His argument is based on a close reading of the work of Michel Foucault. If you are like me, are aware of the phrase “critical marketing” and of the name Foucault, but have never been able to get past the sometimes convoluted language of both, you will appreciate Tadajewski’s straightforward interpretation in terms that are easily understood by any marketing historian. I learned that some of my own research could be considered critical marketing and that I have used Foucault’s methodological concepts of “archeology” and “genealogy” … without knowing it. Tadajewski uses several examples of research on the history of marketing thought to illustrate how Foucault’s ideas relate to historical research in marketing. He concludes by arguing for a pluralistic conception of Critical Marketing studies.

There are several sub-themes running throughout this collection of articles. Fullerton, Brown, and Savitt all include discussions of historiography, the writing of history as part of historical research method. Fullerton’s and Pollay’s articles are autobiographical and in that way complement Savitt’s article on doing biographical research. Schwarzkopf’s article provides a historical review of Pollay’s body of research and that of others on advertising history. Finally, both Schwarzkopf and Tadajewski adopt a larger view of historical method by examining philosophical, theoretical, and even ethical issues related to doing historical research. They also both advocate a more pluralistic approach to methodology. We could not agree more.

D.G. Brian Jones


Brown, S. (2005), Writing Marketing: Literary Lessons From Academic Authorities, Sage, London

Brown, S. (2008), “Writing Russell Belk: excess all areas”, Marketing Theory, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 143–65

Brown, S. (2009), “A litotes of what you fancy: some thoughts on Stanley C. Hollander’s writing style”, Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 74–92

Fullerton, R.A. (1987), “The poverty of ahistorical analysis: present weakness and future cure in US marketing thought”, in Fuat, F. (Ed.), Philosophical and Radical Thought in Marketing, Lexington Books, Lexington, pp. 97–116

Golder, P. (2000), “Historical method in marketing research with new evidence on long-term market share stability”, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 37 No. 2, pp. 156–72

Hollander, S.C., Rassuli, K., Jones, D.G.B. and Farlow-Dix, L. (2005), “Periodization in marketing history”, Journal of Macromarketing, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 32–41

Jones, D.G.B. (1998), “Biography as a methodology for studying the history of marketing ideas”, Psychology and Marketing, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 161–73

Jones, D.G.B. (2010), “A history of historical research in marketing”, in Baker, M. and Saren, M. (Eds), Marketing Theory, Sage Publications, London, pp. 51–82

Jones, D.G.B. (2012), Pioneers in Marketing, Routledge, New York, NY

Nevett, T. (1991), “Historical investigation and the practice of marketing”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 55 No. 3, pp. 13–23

Savitt, R. (1980), “Historical research in marketing”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 44 No. 4, pp. 52–8

Savitt, R. (2009), “Teaching and studying marketing history: a personal journey”, Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 189–99

Smith, R.A. and Lux, D.S. (1993), “Historical method in consumer research: developing causal explanations of change”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 595–610

Witkowski, T.H. and Jones, D.G.B. (2006), “Qualitative historical research in marketing”, in Belk, R.W. (Ed.), Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, pp. 70–82

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