John E. Brennan Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports, 1947-1980 and undated

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Brennan, John E.
47 Linear Feet
79,491 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

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.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
John Edward (Jack) Brennan born to Mary Ellen (Nellie) Norton Brennan and Patrick Brennan in Hasting-on-Hudson, NY.
Established outdoor advertising company, Standard Outdoor Advertising, Inc.
ca. 1947 or 1948
Established Poster Appraisal Service to provide research to the outdoor advertising industry on advertising design effectiveness.
Conducted outdoor advertising design surveys.
Resigned as executive vice president of Standard Outdoor Advertising, Inc.
Established Outdoor Advertising Research Institute as part of surveying activities.
ca. 1974
Retired from taking surveys.

Little is known about the early years of Brennan's career although he may have worked for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), Outdoor Advertising Inc. (OAI), and/or General Outdoor Advertising Co. In the course of his survey work, he founded several companies including Poster Appraisal Service (PAS), the Outdoor Advertising Research Institute, and General Media and Copy Research Co. PAS appears consistently throughout the collection, but in some spots it is referred to as "A Division of" General Media and Copy Research Co. Brennan moved his family and his business back and forth between Florida, California, and New York. The companies were established by Brennan, but various family members worked with him such as his elder brother Thomas, his wife Ann, his sister Jo, as well as many contract workers.

Acquisition information:

The John E. Brennan Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports were transferred to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1996.

Thanks to Brennan's son, John P. Brennan, and nephew, Joe Callo, for providing background information for this collection.

Processing information:

Most Survey Reports came to Duke grouped by city; some were grouped by product type. Other supporting materials seemingly had no order, which was then imposed by the processing archivist. Materials within folders were usually maintained in original order.

Most survey reports were created with one or two color photographs glued to the front of the report. In many instances, photographs had either already fallen off the survey reports to which they were originally attached or were close to doing so. In these cases, the photographs were removed, sleeved in polypropylene, and then clipped to the survey report. Most sleeves hold six photographs. Often all six photographs from three different reports were placed in one sleeve and then the three reports were attached to the sleeve. A number on the back of each photo links it to the related report. When photographs were not easily removed from reports, the pages were interleaved with acid-free paper.

As of September 2002, the advertisements in this collection were not indexed in the ROAD (Resources for Outdoor Advertising Description) database (David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University).

Processed by Lisa C. Chandek-Stark and Sierra Stults

Completed July 2002

Encoded by Lisa C. Chandek-Stark

Processing of this collection was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Though well-defined on paper, there is some overlap among these categories for various products, services and businesses. The fluidity of these categories becomes obvious when facing diverse and sometimes vague advertisements. If an initial search in one category is not successful, try a related category.

Amusement & Entertainment

This category contains one advertisement for a live performance by Danny Kaye.


This category contains one advertisement for Jantzen Swimsuits and Sun Clothes.


This category includes advertisements for the following:

Auto dealers, Auto manufacturers, Auto service, Motor oil, and Tires

This category includes advertisements for items related to cars, except gasoline. Gasoline and gas stations were placed under Transportation & Travel (T & T). Advertisements showing both motor oil and gasoline (and/or car service) were put in the category of the item most prominent. A search for all gas stations should be completed in both this category and T & T.; often an advertisement advertised both car products and gasoline, or just the brand name was presented (such as Texaco, which provides oil, gas, and car service).


This category includes advertisements for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including coffee.

Business & Technology

This category includes advertisements for the following:

Banks, Insurance, and Utilities

Many advertisements featuring major appliances are without a brand name--these are probably for a utility company and were placed here.

Consumer Goods & Services

This category includes advertisements for the following:

Appliances, Cemeteries, Funeral services, Gum, Health & Beauty products, Household products, Over-the-counter medicines, Paper products, Tobacco products, and Undertakers

Household products and services were placed here including funeral homes. Cars, motor oil, and car-related products can be found mostly in the Automotive category. Gasoline can be found in the Transportation & Travel category.

Food & Restaurants

This category includes advertisements for the following:

Candy, Food, Ingredients, Prepared foods, Produce, and Restaurants

Gum, pet food, and tobacco products were most often placed in Consumer Goods & Services. Beverages can usually be found in their own Beverages category.

Media and Public Service

This category includes advertising created for a charitable cause or by a non-profit organization, as well as one advertisement for the Yellow Pages. Check this category and Business & Technology for a more comprehensive search.


This category includes advertisements for the following:

Convenience stores, Department stores, and Grocery stores

Transportation & Travel

This category includes advertisements for the following:

Airlines, Gasoline, and Gasoline stations

Since gas stations but not car service are included in this category, search both this and the Automotive category for an advertisement featuring a company that sold gas and provided auto service.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], John E. Brennan Outdoor Advertising Survey Reports, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.