Speaking of research: oral history and marketing history

Robert Crawford*, Matthew Bailey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the value of oral history for marketing historians and provide case studies from projects in the Australian context to demonstrate its utility. These case studies are framed within a theme of market research and its historical development in two industries: advertising and retail property.

Design/methodology/approach: This study examines oral histories from two marketing history projects. The first, a study of the advertising industry, examines the globalisation of the advertising agency in Australia over the period spanning the 1950s to the 1980s, through 120 interviews. The second, a history of the retail property industry in Australia, included 25 interviews with executives from Australia’s largest retail property firms whose careers spanned from the mid-1960s through to the present day.

Findings: The research demonstrates that oral histories provide a valuable entry port through which histories of marketing, shifts in approaches to market research and changing attitudes within industries can be examined. Interviews provided insights into firm culture and practices; demonstrated the variability of individual approaches within firms and across industries; created a record of the ways that market research has been conducted over time; and revealed the ways that some experienced operators continued to rely on traditional practices despite technological advances in research methods.

Originality/value: Despite their ubiquity, both the advertising and retail property industries in Australia have received limited scholarly attention. Recent scholarship is redressing this gap, but more needs to be understood about the inner workings of firms in an historical context. Oral histories provide an avenue for developing such understandings. The paper also contributes to broader debates about the role of oral history in business and marketing history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-128
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Historical Research in Marketing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Advertising history
  • Australia
  • Market research history
  • Oral history
  • Retailing history


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