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80 Years of Ideas

Value Of McCann's Industry Influence? Priceless

Groundbreaking Global Strategies, Innovative Operations Set Pioneer Agency Apart From the Rest

By Published on . 1

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Harrison McCann, a onetime bellboy turned adman, agreed to join forces with Alfred Erickson, an entrepreneur and son of a Swedish engineer, to merge their companies H.K. McCann Co. and Erickson Co. in October 1930, it made for front-page ink in Advertising Age.

REFRESHING: Coca-Cola's 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing ...' ad was among McCann's most memorable.
REFRESHING: Coca-Cola's 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing ...' ad was among McCann's most memorable.
McCann Erickson immediately proved itself a pioneer in the ad business, beating other networks to the globalization trend of the 1980s by several decades. The shop engaged in multi-country account coordination and created sophisticated global media platforms as early as the 1940s, and today, the powerhouse remains the nucleus of Interpublic Group of Cos., the first major agency-holding company.

The biggest accounts on the roster at the time of the merger included Congoleum-Narin, U.S. Tobacco, Standard Oil, Beech Nut and Encyclopaedia Britannica. The agency was one born of a downtime opportunity that managed to prosper in the years leading up to the Great Depression.

During the next few years, radio became a major focus of the shop, and McCann Erickson is among the first credited for adapting books and music programs for radio. Offices were opened in Argentina and Brazil in the late '30s and that move to "cross the equator" was what helped land blue-chip clients such as Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson, both marketers that McCann still works with today.

A coveted client list combined with a commitment to innovative approaches to advertising attracted many of the biggest names of the day to lend their artistic talents. Norman Rockwell illustrated ads for Del Monte while Thedor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, drew for Flit insecticide campaign.

Some of McCann's most memorable campaigns include: its acclaimed "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" global campaign for Esso; "I'd like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)" for Coca-Cola; Miller Lite's "It's Everything You Always Wanted In a Beer" ads; and of course, the still-running Mastercard "Priceless" campaign.

One of the most influential personalities in the agency's history was the late Marion Harper, who worked his way up from a mailroom boy to CEO in 1948. He reigned there for nearly two decades before his ouster in the late '60s due to reckless spending habits, but not before acquiring various shops to create Interpublic.

Mr. Harper is credited as the one who found a way around conflicting accounts by restructuring McCann in 1960 into four separate operating units. McCann's competitors balked at the concept, but most later wound up adopting a similar system.

Even today, McCann is the backbone of Interpublic. McCann Worldgroup tied with Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide Communications Group as the world's-largest agency network based on 2008 revenue, according to Ad Age's DataCenter, and in 2008 also ranked as the largest U.S. agency network.

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