John B. Watson

This article, a cultural history, attempts to answer the question of how John B. Watson's presence at J. Walter Thompson "made sense" from the standpoint of the actors involved. At the time Watson joined the agency, he had achieved a national reputation as a psychologist, a researcher, and the

leader of behaviorist psychology. His doctrine, which recognized prediction and control as the goal of psychology, meshed well not only with broader Progressive concerns of social control, but more particularly with the goals of the business community, and at J. Walter Thompson, with the goals of Stanley B. Resor. Watson's presence at the agency became a "mechanism" through which Resor could implement his philosophy into advertising practice. Watson's work was to help rationalize the advertising process, but at the same time, spoke directly to the admirers of science, legitimating a reality in which decision making based upon "scientific" methods assumed a role of prominence. The linkage between psychology and modern advertising has been a persistent one. Alliances between psychologists and "professional" advertising associations were the basis of early efforts to establish "scientific advertising" near the turn of the century, and later, psychologists were among the first to write the "second generation" of advertising and advertising and psychology textbooks (Burtt 1938; Link 1932; Starch 1923 ). Perhaps the most famous psychologist to be associated with advertising in its early years, however, was John B. Watson, the "founder of behaviorism."

Few have undertaken anything more than a superficial examination of Watson's advertising career which began in 1920 at the J. Walter Thompson Company. From a scholarly perspective, the most valuable discussion is provided by Buckley (1982a; 1982b). Although his primary interest was in behaviorism as it impacted upon the professionalization of American psychology, he briefly examined Watson's career at J. Walter Thompson, and situated the discussion, at least to some degree, within the larger context of the development of advertising.