Leo Burnett

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Leo Burnett
Leo Burnett.jpg
Born (1891-10-21)October 21, 1891
St. Johns, Michigan U.S.
Died June 7, 1971(1971-06-07) (aged 79)
Lake Zurich, Illinois U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Michigan (B.S., 1914)
Occupation Advertising Executive
Known for Founder of Leo Burnett Worldwide
Spouse(s) Naomi Geddles 1918–71 (his death)
Children Peter Burnett
Joseph Burnett
Phoebe Snetsinger

Leo Burnett (October 21, 1891 – June 7, 1971) was an advertising executive and was among the most 'creative' men in the advertising business.[1] The 19th century was dominated by the copy-heavy ads with lengthy product descriptions and selling arguments, however, he developed fresh simple icons that came to symbolize easy-to-understand product benefits for the 20th-century consumer.[2] He was known for being heavily involved in the Creative Revolution in the 1960s, with other great advertising heads like David Ogilvy, William Bernbach and Mary Wells.[3] Burnett was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[4]


Born in St. Johns, Michigan, his parents were Noble and Rose Clark Burnett. His father ran a dry goods store and as a youth, Burnett worked with his father in the store. He grew up watching his father designing ads to promote his business. During high school, he worked as a reporter for a local, rural newspaper in the summers.[5] After high school he went to study journalism at the University of Michigan and received his Bachelor's degree in 1914. His first job was as a reporter at the Peoria Journal in Peoria, Illinois.[6] In his spare time he wrote and published various short stories between 1915 and 1921. After realizing the future growth possibilities in advertising, he moved to Detroit in 1917, and he got a job editing an in-house publication for Cadillac dealers called Cadillac Clearing House as a copywriter. He successfully went on to become an advertising director for the company.[7]

In 1918, he married Naomi Geddes, whose father was a newspaper man.[8] He went on to have three children: Peter, Joseph and Phoebe.[7]

During World War I he joined the Navy for six months. However, he never got to sea as he spent most of his time at Great Lakes building a breakwater, and hauling cement.[8] After his time in the Navy he returned to Cadillac for a short while. It was then when a few employees at Cadillac formed the LaFayette Motors Company. He moved to Indianapolis, Indiana as the advertising manager for the company.[7] With the company struggling, he found himself with an offer from Homer McKee. He left LaFayette and was hired to work for Homer Mckee Company as head of McKee's creative operation. This was his first agency job.[8]

After spending a decade working for McKee's Company, and working through the stock market crash of 1929. He decided to move on if he was to amount to anything in the advertising business.[8] In 1930, he moved to Chicago and was hired by Erwin, Wasey & Company and worked as the vice-president and the creative head of the company.[5] He worked for Erwin Wasey for five years and in 1935 he founded the Leo Burnett Company Inc.[7]

On June 7, 1971, at the age of 79, he died of a heart attack at his family farm in Lake Zurich, Illinois.[9]

Leo Burnett Company[edit]

His own firm, the Chicago-based Leo Burnett Company, became the 10th largest advertising agency in the world, the eighth largest in the United States,[10] and one of only a handful of top-ten American agencies not headquartered in New York City.

A Private company formed in 1935 and officially running under the name of 'Leo Burnett Company, Inc.' Which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Publicis Groupe. The Company started with eight employees and three clients. It now operates with 200 units globally and the company also includes 'a variety of speciality marketing services and 94 full-service advertising agencies in 83 countries.'[10]
"Headquartered more than a thousand miles from Manhattan, the Chicago-based Leo Burnett Company creates unique advertising campaigns grounded in traditional American values and traditions. The majority of its clients are large, consumer-driven corporations, marketing everything from fast food to cigarettes to frozen foods."[11]

For the first decade of Burnett opening his company he only billed about 1 million in the first few years of the business running and then eventually moving up to 10 million dollars annually, however, in 1950, his billings more than doubled to 22 million dollars and by 1954 the company was at 55 million dollars annually. The company simply grew from this point due to Burnett hiring Richard Heath who brought in bigger clients. Due to TV advertising hitting a boom in the 1950s Burnett's company only benefited from this. By the end of the 1950s, the Leo Burnett Company was billing 100 million dollars annually.[7]

The advertising agency employs around 6,950 and using all these employees for all their talents, Leo Burnett Company is the workings behind some famous advertising characters, some of these include the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger and the well known Marlboro Man.


The Leo Burnett Company is famous for its employee retention. It has a long standing reputation for keeping employees at their company and according to a company executive "new staffers are assigned to their first account "for life". In the company, layoffs are very rare.[12]

Company symbols[edit]

Big black pencils[edit]

Leo Burnett Company claims to be famous for using big black pencils, with the idea that “big ideas come from big pencils”.[13]


Apples have allegedly become a symbol for the Leo Burnett Company ever since Leo Burnett put out a bowl of apples at reception when he opened his doors in the middle of the Great Depression. Opening in the middle of the great depression caused a lot of talk, and people said it would not be long before Leo Burnett would be selling apples on the street. Apples continue to be a symbol of Leo Burnett’s hospitality and success throughout the years.[13]


Stars have become another symbol of Leo Burnett through Leo Burnett’s purported philosophy, “when you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either.” They supposedly continue to represent this strive for greatness in all of their work.[13]

Companies Burnett worked with[edit]

Advertising techniques[edit]

Jolly Green Giant – One of Burnett's creations.

Leo Burnett used dramatic realism in his advertising, the Soft sell approach to build brand equity.[14] Burnett believed in finding the inherent drama of products and presenting it in advertising through warmth, shared emotions and experiences.[15] His advertising drew from heartland-rooted values using simple, strong and instinctive imagery that talked to people.[16] He was also known for using cultural archetypes in his copy, by creating mythical creatures that represented American values. This is evident on such campaigns as Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, Pillsbury Doughboy and more famously the Marlboro Man.[17]

Corny language[edit]

Leo Burnett was known for keeping a folder in the lower left-hand corner of his desk called "Corny Language".[18] He collected words, phrases, and analogies that struck him as being particularly apt in expressing an idea. This was not meant by maxims, gags, or slang, but words, phrases and analogies which convey a feeling of honesty and that drive home a clear point.[19]

Creative process[edit]

His creative process could be summed up in three points:

  1. 'There is an inherent drama in every product. Our No.1 job is to dig for it and capitalize on it.'
  2. 'When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either.'
  3. 'Steep yourself in your subject, work like hell, and love, honor and obey your hunches.'[19]

Burnett's quotes[edit]

He was renowned for having said a number of interesting quotes and thoughts.

  • "When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either."
  • "I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one."
  • "Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief."[20]
  • "Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ogilvy, David (1963). Confessions of an Advertising Man. London: Southbank Publishing. p. 92. ISBN 1 904915 01 9. 
  2. ^ "The Brilliant Words of Leo Burnett". Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  3. ^ O'Guinn, Thomas; Allen, Chris. Semenik, Richard J. (2009). Advertising and Integrated Brand Promotion (5th ed.). p. 92. ISBN 978-0324568677. 
  4. ^ "Time Magazine". Times 100 Persons of the Century. 1999. Retrieved March 11, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Famous People". Leo Burnett. Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Leo Burnett: Advertising". Art Directors Club. 1993. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Leo Burnett". Top Biography. Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c d Higgins, Denis (1987). The Art of Writing Advertising: Conversations with Masters of the Craft. Illinois: NTC Business Books. 
  9. ^ Tungate, Mark (2007). ADLAND: A Global History of Advertising. London: Kogan Page Limited. p. 76. 
  10. ^ a b Advertising, Red Books. "Leo Burnett Worldwide, Inc.". Advertising Red Books. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Universe, Funding. "Leo Burnett Company, Inc.". Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  12. ^ Reichheld, Frederick (March–April 1993). "Loyal Based Management". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c http://www.leoburnett.lk/philosophy.cfm
  14. ^ Hackley, Chris (2010). Advertising & Promotion An Integrated Market Communications Approach (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-84920-145-2. 
  15. ^ "Ad Age Advertising Century: People: Leo Burnett". Advertising Age. Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  16. ^ ciaadvertising.org (January 16, 2006). "1.2: A Brief History of Advertising". In Tellis, Gerrard; Ambler, Tim. The SAGE Handbook of Advertising. SAGE Publications. pp. 17–35. ISBN 978-1-4129-1886-2. 
  17. ^ Sandra, Moriarty; Mitchell, Nancy; Wells, William (2012). Advertising & IMC Principles and Practice (9th ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-27-37-5292-9. 
  18. ^ "Long Lost Marketing Secrets – Leo Burnett". Peter Woodhead. Retrieved March 15, 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Ogilvy, David (1983). Ogilvy on Advertising. London: Carlton Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-853375-615-3 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  20. ^ "The Brilliant Words of Leo Burnett". Direct Creative. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Quotes on Design". Chris Coyier. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • S. Broadbent, Leo Burnett Book of Advertising, Business Books: Indiana University, 1984.
  • L. Burnett, "A Collection of Short Stories by Leo Burnett," Blurb.com, 2012.

External links[edit]