The McCann Time Capsule: Reforming American Voting
As Americans go to vote on Nov. 8th, they will be spared puzzling over a ballot that stretches out nearly five yards, as the one in New York did a century ago. Throughout all of the states, every candidate from Dairy Commissioner to State Printer to Inspector of Hides & Animals and then, in every county down to coroners, sheriffs and many more, were up for a vote. But thanks in small part to the marketing acumen of McCann Erickson co-founder Alfred Erickson, voting has become more meaningful and less time-consuming.
In July 1909, the Progressive Era reformer Richard Spencer Childs published an article in the publication “Outlook” that gave prominence to the “Short Ballot” movement he was leading. Childs believed that the long ballot had become a tool of the political machines and that focusing instead only on major elected offices would draw larger populations to the polls. Among those sharing in this belief was Woodrow Wilson, then still on the verge of becoming governor of New Jersey as part of his path to the White House, The Short Ballot Organization then set up an office at 383 Fourth Ave. in New York, next to the company where Childs was employed-- The Erickson Co. ad agency at 381 Fourth Ave.
Childs was a scion of the wealthy family that owned The Barrett Manufacturing Company, one of Erickson’s first clients won in1903, and also the Bon Ami Company, which assigned its account to Erickson in 1908. William Hamlin Childs, Richard’s father, had also become a close friend as well as business associate of Alfred Erickson’s. In 1904, Richard, 22, went to work at the Erickson ad agency where he stayed until 1918, becoming the firm’s secretary and a junior partner while also pursuing his various democracy reforms.
Childs also received advice from Alfred Erickson on how to market his reform movement. As stated in the book, “Democracy Reformed: Richard Spencer Childs and His Fight for Better Government,” by Bernard Hirschhorn, “A.W. Erickson was responsible for Childs’s decision to call his reform the ‘short ballot,’ a term he believed he was the first to use. Although it was neither exactly accurate nor scholarly, the bashful advertising man that Childs was sensed that the slogan would catch on, and he asked editors and lecturers to use the phrase freely and prominently, as early as 1909.”