FEATURE2 February 2017

The birth of qualitative research

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Features Impact UK

In 98% Pure Potato, John Griffiths and Tracey Follows describe how Britain became a global advertising power after the democratisation of qualitative research and the invention of account planning in 1960s London.


In the 1920s, advertising agencies introduced and developed market research in the UK. As clients built their teams of research interviewers to support national distribution and sales in stores, advertising agencies ran the marketing function on their behalf, focusing on the end consumer. 

As a result, qualitative research stopped being the sole preserve of academics, therapists and psychotherapy buffs, and started to be run by graduates who had not necessarily studied social sciences. Two agencies were particularly instrumental in starting the planning function – J Walter Thompson and Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP). Here, planners were expected to use market research to develop and refine advertising strategy.  

Notoriously at BMP, planners held hundreds of their own discussion groups each year; no ad was allowed to run unless it had first been researched. At J Walter Thompson, it was felt to be unprofessional for planners to run their own groups, but they used research to learn about brand personality ...