Leo Burnett

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Leo Burnett
Born(1891-10-21)October 21, 1891
DiedJune 7, 1971(1971-06-07) (aged 79)
Burial placeRosehill Cemetery
Alma materUniversity of Michigan (B.S., 1914)
OccupationAdvertising executive
Known forFounder of Leo Burnett Worldwide
Naomi Geddes
(m. 1918)
ChildrenPeter Burnett
Joseph Burnett
Phoebe Snetsinger

Leo Burnett (October 21, 1891 – June 7, 1971) was an American advertising executive and the founder of Leo Burnett Company, Inc. He was responsible for creating some of advertising's most well-known characters and campaigns of the 20th century, including Tony the Tiger, the Marlboro Man, the Maytag Repairman, United's "Fly the Friendly Skies", and Allstate's "Good Hands", and for garnering relationships with multinational clients such as McDonald's, Hallmark and Coca-Cola.[1] In 1999, Burnett was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[2]


Leo Burnett was born in St. Johns, Michigan, on October 21, 1891, to Noble and Rose Clark Burnett. Noble ran a dry goods store and as a young man, Burnett worked with his father, watching Noble as he designed ads for the business.[3][4] After high school, Burnett went on to study journalism at the University of Michigan and received his bachelor's degree in 1914.[5]

Burnett's first job after college was as a reporter for the Peoria Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois.[6] In 1917 he moved to Detroit and was hired to edit an in-house publication for Cadillac Motor Car Company, Cadillac Clearing House, later becoming an advertising director for that institution.[7] At Cadillac, Burnett met his advertising mentor, Theodore F. MacManus, whom Burnett called "one of the great advertising men of all time". MacManus ran the agency that handled Cadillac's advertising.[8]

In 1918, Burnett married Naomi Geddes. The couple met at a restaurant near the Cadillac offices, where Naomi was a cashier.[9] They went on to have three children: Peter, Joseph and Phoebe.

During World War I, Burnett joined the Navy for six months. His service was mostly at Great Lakes building a breakwater.[10] After the USN, Burnett returned to Cadillac. A few employees at Cadillac formed the LaFayette Motors Company – triggering Burnett to move to Indianapolis to work for the new firm.[11] Soon he was offered a position with Homer McKee. He then left LaFayette and joined McKee, where Burnett said of the founder, "(He) gave me my first feel of what I have come to regard as the "warm sell" as contrasted to the "hard sell" and "soft sell".[12] This was his first agency job.[13]

Burnett's grave at Rosehill Cemetery

After spending a decade at McKee's, and working through the stock market crash of 1929, Burnett left the company. In 1930, he moved to Chicago and was hired by Erwin, Wasey & Company, where he was employed for five years.[14]

In 1935, Burnett founded the Leo Burnett Company, Inc.[15] Later, the operation moved to the 18th floor of the London Guarantee Building.[16] Today, the agency has 9,000+ employees in over 85 offices globally.[citation needed]

In December 1967, nearing the end of his career, Burnett delivered his "When To Take My Name Off The Door" speech at the agency's holiday gathering.[15][17]

On June 7, 1971, Burnett went to his agency, pledging to colleagues to work three days per week due to health problems. That evening, at age 79, he died of a heart attack at his family farm in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois.[18][19] He is buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

Leo Burnett Company[edit]

A private company formed in 1935 and officially running under the name of "Leo Burnett Company, Inc.", the agency started with working capital of $50,000, eight employees and three clients.[20][21] Now a part of Publicis Groupe, Leo Burnett is one of the largest agency networks with 85 offices in 69 countries and 9,000+ employees.[22][23][24]

For the first several years, Burnett billed about $1 million annually.[25] By 1950, billings had increased to $22 million, and by 1954 the company was at $55 million annually. By the end of the 1950s, the Leo Burnett Company was billing $100 million annually.[26]

Companies Burnett worked with[edit]

Notable creations[edit]

Jolly Green Giant – One of Burnett's creations.

Advertising techniques[edit]

Burnett used dramatic realism in his advertising, the soft sell approach to build brand equity.[28] Burnett believed in finding the "inherent drama" of products and presenting it in advertising through warmth, shared emotions and experiences.[29] His advertising drew from heartland-rooted values using simple, strong and instinctive imagery that talked to people.[30] 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, Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger and more famously the Marlboro Man.[31] Indeed, these campaigns played on the 1950s attitudes towards masculinity that pervaded his campaigns.[32]

Corny language[edit]

Burnett was known for keeping a folder in the lower left-hand corner of his desk called "Corny Language".[33] He collected words, phrases, and analogies that struck him as being particularly apt in expressing an idea.[34]

Social advertising[edit]

In 1947, Burnett wrote The Good Citizen, a booklet concerning the duties and privileges of being a U.S. citizen. This was done as a public service for The Advertising Council and The American Heritage Foundation.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CNBC Titans: Leo Burnett". Hulu. CNBC. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  2. ^ "Time Magazine". Times 100 Persons of the Century. June 14, 1999. Archived from the original on May 10, 2007. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  3. ^ Star Reacher (1 ed.). Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. 1995. p. 7.
  4. ^ "CNBC Titans: Leo Burnett". Hulu. CNBC. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  5. ^ McDonough, John; Egolf, Karen, eds. (June 18, 2015). "Burnett, Leo". The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising. Routledge. p. 231. ISBN 9781135949068.
  6. ^ Leo Burnett: Advertising. Art Director's Club. 1993.
  7. ^ "Leo Burnett". Top Biography. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  8. ^ Joan Kufrin (1995). Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 15.
  9. ^ Joan Kufrin (1995). Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 16.
  10. ^ Joan Kufrin. Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 17.
  11. ^ "Leo Burnett". Top Biography. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  12. ^ Joan Kufrin (1995). Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 24.
  13. ^ Denis Higgins (1987). The Art of Writing Advertising: Conversations with Masters of the Craft. Illinois.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ Joan Kufrin (1995). Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 26.
  15. ^ a b "CNBC Titans: Leo Burnett". Hulu. CNBC. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  16. ^ Joan Kufrin (1995). Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 47.
  17. ^ "When To Take My Name Off The Door". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  18. ^ Joan Kufrin (1995). Star Reacher. Chicago, IL: Leo Burnett Company, Inc. p. 243.
  19. ^ "CNBC Titans". Hulu. CNBC. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  20. ^ "Leo Burnett, still reaching for the stars after 60 years". Advertising Age. July 31, 1995.
  21. ^ 1935: Initial clients Realsilk Hosiery, Hoover, Minnesota Valley Canning Co.
  22. ^ "Publicis Groupe Showcase". Publicis Groupe. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  23. ^ "Company Overview of Leo Burnett Company, Inc". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Bloomberg. Archived from the original on April 17, 2008. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  24. ^ Kufrin, Joan. Leo Burnett: Star Reacher. Leo Burnett Company, Inc.
  25. ^ Gentile, Olivia (July 1, 2009). Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 39. ISBN 9781608191468.
  26. ^ "Leo Burnett". Top Biography. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  27. ^ "Leo Burnett: Advertising". Art Directors Club. 1993. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  28. ^ Hackley, Chris (2010). Advertising & Promotion An Integrated Market Communications Approach (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-84920-145-2.
  29. ^ "Ad Age Advertising Century: People: Leo Burnett". Advertising Age. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  30. ^ Tellis, Gerrard; Ambler, Tim, eds. (January 16, 2006). "1.2: A Brief History of Advertising". The SAGE Handbook of Advertising. SAGE Publications. pp. 17–35. ISBN 978-1-4129-1886-2.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Ewen, Stuart (December 7, 1998). "Leo Burnett: The Sultan of Sell". Time. Time Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
  33. ^ "Leo Burnett". longlostmarketingsecrets.com. Peter Woodhead. Retrieved March 15, 2012.
  34. ^ Ogilvy, David (1983). Ogilvy on Advertising. London: Carlton Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-85375-615-3.

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.
  • J. Kufrin, "Leo Burnett: Star Reacher," Leo Burnett Company, Inc., 1995.

External links[edit]