The John E. Brennan Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports document the professional endeavors of outdoor advertising design researcher John E. (Jack) Brennan for the time period 1947 to 1980. His work primarily consisted of conducting market surveys on the effectiveness of billboard advertisement design and layout, and reporting his findings to subscribers to advance design efficiency for the industry. About 786 surveys cover 15,720 different advertisement designs posted on signs in major markets around the US. Forty-two different cities were covered in 27 states. His survey interviewers questioned participants on how well they remembered advertisements and product brand names. Brennan then analyzed the survey data to produce practical information for advertisers and advertising companies on improving advertisement copy, thereby increasing advertising efficiency and profits. His emphasis was on outdoor advertisement design and copy, not traffic or other outdoor industry factors. The collection is comprised mainly of paper files, most containing color photographs attached to the paper data reports or sleeved along side them. Other significant items include the Copy Clues reports which capitalize on the data Brennan compiled, suggesting outdoor advertisement (also known as poster) design improvements. Other supporting materials within the collection include survey methodology information, related writings, summary data files, and business correspondence. Even without the context of Brennan's survey forms and data, the collection is a sizable photo library of mid-20th century commercial art created for outdoor advertising. Additional description of the individual series presented below may be found within the container list.
The collection begins with a small amount of Business Correspondence related to the surveys completed by Brennan's company Poster Appraisal Service (also General Media and Copy Research Co., and Outdoor Advertising Research Institute). Information documenting how Brennan conducted surveys makes up the next series called Methodology Files, which includes some interview forms and instructions. These are followed by the Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports themselves, which form the bulk of the collection. An individual survey was normally conducted in one city using about 20 different advertising designs. Each report is a compilation of data for one billboard advertisement, including a breakdown of statistics by male and female participants, and usually including color snapshot photographs of each design. Researchers of the collection can see the photos used in survey interviews, noticing how brand names were hidden and revealed as participants were questioned as to whether they remembered the entire advertisement and/or the brand name advertised. Design efficiency for individual cities may be studied since surveys are arranged by geographic location. Data may also be studied over time since ads are arranged chronologically within each location grouping. Certain ads were also compiled and survey data studied according to product type. For example, researchers may see how effective certain candy bar advertisements were across the country. Brennan encouraged subscribers to his service to look at reports themselves and come to their own conclusions about how to improve billboard advertisement design.
The Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports Series is also documentation of the more than 15,000 pieces of creative work produced by many different advertising agencies and their advertisers including D'Arcy Advertising; Foote, Cone, and Belding; J. Walter Thompson; McCann-Erickson; and Young and Rubicam. The photographed billboards were operated by many outdoor advertising companies including Central, Foster and Kleiser, Houston Poster, Middleton, Packer, and United. In addition to the photos with the survey reports, there are also several files of loose photographs, including pictures of billboards that were likely produced in preparation for surveys. A sampling of the product brands featured in the advertisements includes Admiral appliances, Amoco gasoline, Ballantine Beer, Budweiser Beer, Chevrolet automobiles, Coca-Cola soda, Conoco gasoline, Dr. Pepper soda, Edsel automobiles, Folger's coffee, Ford automobiles, Fritos snacks, Jax Beer, Libby's canned goods, Mobil gas and oil, Mrs. Baird's Bread, Nash automobiles, Northern Tissue, NuGrape soda, Pabst Beer, Schlitz Beer, Sealy mattresses, Shell gasoline, Stratolounger, and Sunshine food products.
The Summary Data Files contain much of the same condensed survey information on advertisement remembrance and product identification found at the front of each survey's folder. The folders in this series contain compiled data sheets of specific data types (remembrance, or identification, etc.) for all (or many) of the surveys conducted in one city. In addition to survey data, there are other documents such as a design master record that presents information in a summary form.
Copy Clues are the monthly reports sent to Brennan's subscribers that interpret survey data, and place it in usable form. This series reflects conclusions drawn from the survey data to communicate specific information on various advertisement attributes. For instance, if multiple designs with dark backgrounds had low remembrance scores, and designs with white backgrounds scored high, Brennan might have brought to his subscriber's attention that white backgrounds make more effective advertising. Did more people remember a product brand if the product was depicted along with a child or without one? Subscribers could receive Copy Clues to answer such questions as well as to receive the survey reports. The final series, Other Surveys and Outdoor Advertising-Related Materials, contains other organizations' surveys, writings, and further information related to outdoor advertising that does not necessarily fit into the previous groupings.
Related collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library include a number of other outdoor advertising collections, such as the Outdoor Advertising Slide Library, the John Paver Papers, the John Browning Papers, the Duplex Advertising Co. Records, the H.E. Fisk Collection of War Effort Mobilization Campaigns, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America Records, the Outdoor Advertising Poster Design Collection, the Garrett Orr Papers, the R.C. Maxwell Company Records, the Howard Scott Papers, and the Strobridge Lithographing Company Advertisements.