In memory of John Downham

ESOMAR commemorates a giant of the insights and analytics sector and extends condolences to his family and loved ones.
John Downham speaking with a microphone
Date 27 January 2022
Author Kathy Joe

With thanks to our co-authors

Finn Raben
ESOMAR Staff, Director General at ESOMAR
Kathy Joe
ESOMAR Staff, Consultant to ESOMAR PSC at ESOMAR

John Downham and ESOMAR

Anyone who had the good fortune to work with John Downham will remember him for his clear thinking, wisdom and huge experience in market research on both the supplier and client side.

They will also have enjoyed his encyclopedic knowledge about an enormous range of subjects including history, geography, music and gardening.

John will be remembered for his massive contribution to market research from running BRMB in the UK to leading international research at Unilever. Furthermore, in addition to his numerous activities for other associations, John was a member of the ESOMAR Council and the first Chair of the ESOMAR Professional Standards Committee in the 1970s. He drafted the first ICC/ESOMAR International Code of Practice, and many ESOMAR Guidelines including the first one on International Research.

John also played a significant role in putting together a landmark book that captured the first 50 years of ESOMAR. Thanks to John’s story, ESOMAR could offer to its members and all those who wanted to know about ESOMAR’s achievements, a wonderful compilation gathered into a single historical overview publication.

John remained a consultant on professional standards until 2004, continuing to draft ESOMAR Guidelines which included Distinguishing Market Research from Other Activities as well as on Agreeing a Market Research Contract with Clients. With his broad experience in international market research, John also advised ESOMAR on how to handle complaints and questions about market research.

In 2005, ESOMAR introduced an annual Excellence Award in honour of John who had been such a key figure in helping ESOMAR develop international codes and guidelines for the industry worldwide. Named 'The John Downham Award' it was designed to recognize outstanding achievements in market research and to stimulate excellence in international research standards.

John also co-wrote the ESOMAR Consumer Market Research Handbook with Bob Worcester in 1988 (republished in several editions) and this was a standard reference text.

In addition, John authored many papers for ESOMAR events, the first on record (still downloadable from ESOMAR’s library) is An approach to measuring advertising effectiveness which he co-wrote with Timothy Joyce in 1961. This describes a project that the BMRB was conducting on behalf of J. Walter Thompson and its clients. It was an attempt to systematically collect and interrelate a number of partial measures on the effectiveness of competitive advertising campaigns, a knotty problem still vexing many researchers and their clients.

A dapper and gentlemanly individual, John will be remembered by many for being extremely knowledgeable, charming and exceptionally helpful; he was, and will remain, an industry “great”.

If you would like to learn more about John Downham and his contribution to the Research Industry worldwide, please also refer to this lovely “in memoriam” piece, written by Peter Mouncey.

Kathy Joe
ESOMAR Staff, Consultant to ESOMAR PSC at ESOMAR