The McCann Time Capsule: A. W. Erickson and ‘Verification’ in Advertising
Our enduring “Truth Well Told” philosophy was created by The H.K. McCann Co. in 1912, but if there is one industry individual associated with really ensuring the role of “Truth” in the advertising business, it would probably be Alfred W. Erickson, who had founded his agency in 1902 and merged The Erickson Co. with McCann in 1930.
After Erickson died in 1936, Time magazine ran an obituary calling him the “Father of Advertising” and explained just what he was considered the progenitor of: “the father of the commission basis upon which modern advertising agencies operate; one of the fathers of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Audit Bureau of Circulations and the Better Business Bureau.” The latter two organizations are among the industry’s key verifiers of accuracy and transparency in the media and advertising business.
Alfred W. Erickson was already a major figure in the industry by 1914, the year of the founding of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (which, in 2012, was renamed the Alliance for Audited Media to expand its mandate from print circulation verification to cross-media verification across all brand platforms, including web, mobile, email and print).
According to the 1965 book, “Facts without Opinion: First Fifty Years of the Audit Bureau of Circulations,” Erickson played a pivotal role in the formation of the ABC, which came about through the merger of the Chicago-based Advertising Audit Association (AAA) and the New York-based Bureau of Verified Circulations (BVC). The AAA’s Stanley Clague (also an Ad Hall of Famer, as is Erickson) enlisted Erickson confidentially on his plan to create a single national body that could ensure accuracy in the reporting of circulation figures to the benefit of advertisers and agencies.
Erickson at the time was President of the Association of New York Advertising Agents and that group’s representative on the board of the BVC. He agreed with Clague’s plan, drove the negotiations, and helped raise the initial $10,000 necessary to establish the united organization.
He also brought the advertiser managers back into the group when their association suddenly balked at joining at the end. As Charles O. Bennett, the author of “Facts without Opinion,” writes, Erickson wrote a “blistering note which, in part, said ‘I am both chagrined and grieved at the failure of your organization to endorse the work of its committee, and it seems too bad that the various advertising interests cannot work harmoniously on a movement as big and important as this.’”
When the ABC was formed, Alfred Erickson then became one of two advertising agent representatives on the board, and served as its vice chairman from 1914 to 1921.
In a 1930 ad announcing the union that created McCann-Erickson Inc., the copy described it as “The merger, under one name, of two groups of long-time friends, who, in standards of service and agency practice, have thought as one for many years.”
Those shared views clearly extended to the integrity of audience information inasmuch as The H.K. McCann Co. was one of the charter agency members of the ABC along with The Erickson Co.