Scott, Walter Dill (1869-1955)

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Walter Dill Scott was one of the first psychologists to write in depth about the relation of psychology to advertising. Born in 1869 near Cooksville, Ill., Mr. Scott earned a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1900 and, on his return to the U.S., became an instructor in psychology at Northwestern University.

In 1901, Mr. Scott conducted his first experiments in advertising for the Agate Club of Chicago, a local business association. Rather than developing a general theory of psychology, he focused on the study of psychology's application to business, especially its relations to advertising and management. In 1902, he started teaching courses in advertising and applied psychology. His first book, "The Theory of Advertising," appeared in 1903.

Mr. Scott explored the subject further in another book, "The Psychology of Advertising" (1908). He argued for a scientific approach to advertising that looked beyond the physical characteristics of the ad—typography, color, type of paper—to psychological aspects, which, he noted, were dependent upon the belief system of the target audience.

He believed that persuasion was less rational and direct than advocates of "reason-why" theories would have people believe. The process, Mr. Scott said, was more a matter of suggestion than of argument. Eventually, his ideas came to influence many advertising professionals.

Mr. Scott was promoted to professor in 1908. A year later, he became professor of advertising at Northwestern's new School of Commerce, as well as chair of the Department of Psychology. Although his academic responsibilities occupied much of his time, he continued to write, publishing "The Psychology of Advertising in Theory & Practice" in 1913.

He employed findings from his experiments to support certain assertions: that a rectangle was more pleasing to the eye than a square, for example. He believed that many problems in advertising could be solved by analyzing empirical data. He employed surveys to determine why consumers purchased particular products. He calculated the advertising space in certain periodicals to determine which marketers advertised most.

Mr. Scott took a leave of absence from Northwestern in 1916 to teach applied psychology and direct the Bureau of Salesmanship Research at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (today Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. His last major contribution in the field of psychology and advertising was a revision of his book "The Psychology of Advertising" in 1917.

In 1920, Mr. Scott was elected president of Northwestern University, after which he rarely lectured or wrote on the topics that had occupied the earlier part of his career. He helped to raise more than $70 million for the university and was instrumental in the establishment of a campus in Chicago. He died in Evanston, Ill., in 1955.


Born May 1, 1869, near Cooksville, Ill.; graduated from Illinois State Normal University, 1891; received B.A. from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., 1895; received B.D. from the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, 1898; received Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Leipzig, Germany, 1900; became instructor in psychology at Northwestern University, 1900; appointed director, Bureau of Salesmanship Research at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1916, and president, American Psychological Association, 1919; named director of the Division of Psychology & Anthropology of the National Research Council, 1919; elected president of Northwestern University, 1920; awarded Distinguished Service Medal for service in World War I; died in Evanston on Sept. 23, 1955.

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