Charles Coolidge Parlin: The Father of Market Research

The Upfront Analytics TeamEducation3 Comments

charles coolidge parlin - father of market research

Charles Coolidge Parlin (1872-1942)

As an industry, market research may not have even existed if it weren’t for a company acquisition, a Wisconsin schoolteacher, and a whole lot of farm equipment. But, if there’s anything we’ve learned from modern corporate America, it’s that some of the accidents in acquisition are also some of the most lucrative.

By learning more about Charles Coolidge Parlin, the father of market research as we know it, you’ll see why sometimes, a whim and really great data are all it takes to supercharge a marketing campaign.

Charles Coolidge Parlin had zero marketing experience when he was hired by the Curtis Publishing Company in 1911. His job was so new, he didn’t even have a title. But the Curtis Publishing Company was in a bind: They had purchased a magazine called Country Gentleman without knowing much about the world of agriculture. Therefore, Coolidge Parlin was hired on to give the company better insight into the market, the readers, and how best to advertise to the demographic.

Real Market Research

Coolidge Parlin took to the task with gusto, taking six months to interview subjects and eventually compile a 460-page survey about how and where agricultural products were purchased. Coolidge Parlin had no protocol to follow; no “best practices” or data-gathering techniques even existed. Coolidge Parlin, however, learned to break down results and findings to easily understand pieces when presenting to executives (something you’ll still find in practice today).

Coming off the success of his Country Gentleman findings, Coolidge Parlin gave himself a title (“Commercial Researcher”) and set upon another industry: Department stores. In 1912, he targeted 100 of the biggest cities in the United States and conducted 1,121 interviews before compiling Department Store Lines, a report on how marketers could maximize profits based on the goods they advertised.

Next up was cars: Coolidge Parlin released a five-page study called Automobiles in 1914, with a hefty focus on female buying habits. Coolidge Parlin used his data to correctly predict the future of auto sales, causing a veritable advertising frenzy to match those predictions.

Business Expansion

Working with the Curtis Publishing Company until well into the 1920s, Coolidge Parlin eventually began the first market research firm, called National Analysts. He ran the company until his retirement in 1938.

It was said that Coolidge Parlin had a preternatural amount of common sense and energy. When combined with a curiosity of human behavior, Coolidge Parlin parlayed one set of insights into an entire set of standards that still govern market research as we know it. Today, The Charles Coolidge Parlin Marketing Research Award is backed by the Philadelphia Chapter of the AMA and the Wharton School, celebrating innovation in the field.

Advertising was nothing new when Coolidge Parlin joined the Curtis Publishing Company back in 1911. But his work proves that advertising is just one part of marketing. In order to extend advertising reach, insight, data, and analytics are a vital piece to the puzzle.

Who would have thought that a title-less revolutionary could have such an effect on modern marketing?

Charles Coolidge Parlin Marketing Research Award

The legacy of Parlin lives on in the shape of a fittingly named market research award, handed out by the American Marketing Association. This award began in 1945 by Philadelphia-based AMA, in conjunction with The Wharton School and the Curtis Publishing Company (Parlin’s old company). This award is given out to top contributors in the market research field, including those who “demonstrated outstanding leadership and sustained impact on advancing the evolving profession of marketing research over an extended period of time”. Below is a list of every Parlin Market Research Award since its inception in 1945:

2014 – Wayne S. DeSarbo​ ​1978 – John D.C. Little
2013 – Herb Sorensen ​1977 – Paul E. Green
​2012 – Greg M. Allenby ​1976 – Kenneth J. Whalen
​2011 – Steven H. Cohen ​1975 – John Kenneth Jamieson
​2010 – Jordan Louviere ​1974 – E. Cordon Walker
​2009 – Magid Abraham ​1973 – August A. Busch, III
2008 – Vithala R. Rao​ ​1972 – Dr. Robert Ferber & David Ogilvy
2007 – Ronald L. Tatham​ ​1971 – James W. Button
2006 – Donald Lehmann​ ​1970 – Theodore Levitt
​2005 – Howard Moskowitz ​1969 – Robert J. Keith
​2004 – Jagdish N. Sheth ​1968 – Malcolm P. McNair
​2003 – Frank Bass ​1967 – J. Paul Austin
​2002 – Rich Johnson & Gilbert Churchill ​1966 – Robert J. Keith
​2001 – John R. Hauser & William D. Neal ​1965 – George Gallup
​2000 – H. Paul Root ​1964 – Ray R. Eppert & D. Maynard Phelps
​1999 – Glen L. Urban ​1963 – Arthur C. Nielsen
​1998 – Robert J. Lavidge ​1962 – Thomas B. McCabe
​1997 – Vijay Mahajan ​1961 – Harold L. Zellerbach
1996 – Vincent P. Barabba & V. Seenu Srinivasan ​1960 – Marion Harper, Jr.
​​1994 – George Day ​1959 – Charles C. Mortimer
​1993 – Faith Popcorn ​1958 – Reavis Cox & Theodore V. Houser
​1992 – Herbert M. Baum ​1957 – Peter Drucker
​1991 – Michael Porter ​1956 – Frank Stanton
​1990 – Joseph M. Segal ​1955 – Thomas M. Evans
​1989 – Philip Kotler ​1954 – Wroe Alderson & Donald M. Hobart
​1988 – John L. Malec ​1953 – Robert Wood Johnson
​1987 – Richard E. Hechert ​1952 – Paul H. Nystrom
​1986 – Wayne Lemburg ​​1951 – David F. Austin
​1985 – Yoram Wind 1950 – Samuel B. Eckert
​1984 – John A. Howard ​1949 – Harry A. Bullis & Neil H. Borden
​1983 – Frederick W. Smith ​1948 – M. E. Coyle
​1982 – Paul L. Erdos & Arthur J. Morgan ​​1947 – Robert S. Wilson
​1981 – George Katona 1946 – Edwin B. George
​1980 – Daniel Yankelovich ​1945 – George A. Lundberg
​1979 – Sir Frederick Alfred Laker

3 Comments on “Charles Coolidge Parlin: The Father of Market Research”

  1. Pingback: 5 Must-Read Books for Market Research - Upfront Analytics

  2. Pingback: Robert K. Merton: The Father of Focus Groups | Upfront Analytics

  3. Pingback: The Father of Market Research | SEO

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *