Database Review

Market Research and American Business, 1935-1965 (MRAB) is a digital collection accessible by users affiliated with institutions that have purchased it. Its cost, according to a review, ranges from $14,000 to $48,000, depending on the hosting institution’s size, plus a small annual fee (Cheryl LaGuardia in the Library Journal). The database, available since 2000 (based on a Google search), has been favorably reviewed by the Library Journal, Choice, and Reference Reviews. (1)

MRAB is a database comprised principally of the reports, business correspondence, related notes, and advertisements created by Ernest Dichter, an Austrian immigrant who established a consulting firm, the Institute for Motivational Research, Inc. (IMR) in 1946. Dichter’s firm offered advertising agents and business clients, including such diverse and iconic international brands as American Tobacco Company, Disney, Nestle, and Playtex, research findings on “consumers’ innermost secrets and taboos.” Social scientists employed by Dichter interviewed and analyzed consumers using psychological methodologies, rather than conducting simple surveys. The MRAB collection, whose original documents are housed at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware, contains materials pertaining to the heyday of motivational research, especially the 1950s. MRAB consists of digitized sources of use to researchers of consumer culture, business, advertising, marketing and psychology.

MRAB also comprises a collection of advertisements of the same era furnished it by two other archives, Duke University’s John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, and the Advertising Archives, a private archive, the largest in Europe, established by Larry and Suzanne Viner in 1989.

MRAB is the product of Adam Matthew Digital, an independent subsidiary of the Sage Publishing Company. Adam Matthew developed Quartex, an open access platform that institutions including the Newberry Library and the American Philosophical Society are using to digitally publish their collections. MRAB is part of another Adam Matthew digital collection, “American Consumer Culture,” which also includes “J. Walter Thompson: Advertising America,” and “Trade Catalogues and the American Home.” Information about the publisher is available at

MRAB’s documents are searchable through an advanced search by keywords appearing anywhere in a result or in several advanced search techniques, involving specifying a term’s location in an item’s title, company or ad firm commissioner, or brand. The database supports Boolean, phrase, proximity, and wildcard searches. Additionally, it offers a few hundred suggested keywords and phrases (“female consumer” returns 1,200 results), several dozen companies (IMR produced 42 documents for the “Florists’ Telegraph Delivery Association”), and brands (there were 52 documents in which the “Carnation” brand appeared). It is not clear how the database differentiates between companies and brands. A user may also specify an item’s type as a letter, memorandum, pilot study, proposal, report, or supporting material, although it is not clear whether these terms were established by IMR, a succeeding archivist, or the digital creator.

There are also other search methodologies. The site identifies thirty-one of the industries in which IMR located its clients, from advertising to travel and tourism. A user may browse documents within each industry. Meanwhile, the database’s collection of visual sources – advertisements – is searchable by keyword, which may be filtered by industry, decade, type of medium in which the ad first appeared, and brand. Both text-based documents and visual images are downloadable as PDF files.

The database provides a “Citation/Export” option, by which users may see information for citing an item according to Harvard, MLA, and Chicago styles, and export links through EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero. Meanwhile, in an FAQ section, there is this paragraph concerning citing: “American Consumer Culture: Market Research and American Business provides access   to valuable source materials which you may wish to cite in essays and projects. Students should cite items in their footnotes as per the scholarly standard for such citations. Reference should be made to the specific item and the library holding the original material. While browsing you can consult the copyright notice at the bottom of the image, which provides details of the library of origin, the title, date and issue number (if relevant). Students should consult their supervisors for their preferred style (for        example, see the MHRA website [Modern Humanities Research Association] for a free download of the Style Guide). If you need clarification please ask your academic supervisor.”

MRAB gives the user a helpful sense of an item’s significance and context by including in its metadata links to several items that MRAB also produced for the same company and/or brand, links to biographies of the businesses for whom IMR produced the item, and links to related scholarly essays, although it is not clear how often that scholarly literature is revised, or who identifies that literature. There are even links to contemporaneous historical events: a 1971 motivational plan for the Pontiac Motor Division has a link to a timeline of events during that year, part of a longer chronology of advertising’s history from 1841 to 2000.

Items in the collection appear to have been digitally photographed from original items, although there is no information provided about whether visual images have been enhanced or altered. A provenance note explains that Dichter originally gave his collection to Mercy College, where he taught marketing. When Mercy expressed its desire to microfilm the collection and destroy the originals to save storage space, Dichter transferred the collection to the Hagley Museum.  Likewise, the website of the Advertising Archive indicates that it contains one million original advertising images, of which only ten percent have been digitally photographed and made available online.   

There are few competitors of the MRAB database, particularly those offering open access. The American Antiquarian Society’s database American Broadsides and Ephemera, produced by Readex, contains 30,000 items, searchable by genre, subject, place of publication, but focuses on the time period dated 1749-1900, and, like MRAB, is a subscription service. offers over 100,000 advertisements, organized by category and decade of appearance, from 1840-2000. No metadata is provided on this website’s items. The Library of Congress’s printed ephemera collection offers over 28,000 broadsides dating from the 1600s to recent time, although only some 10,000 of the items in the collection are accessible online, and only 1,000 of those date after 1900. (2)

(1) “Market Research and American Business, 1935-1965 Reviews,” Adam Matthew A Sage Company, URL, accessed September 27, 2019.

(2)“Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera,” U.S. Library of Congress, URL, accessed September 27, 2019.

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