Leo Burnett

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Leo Burnett was a well-known advertising executive who founded the Leo Burnett Company, a renowned advertising agency. Many in the industry still see him as a key advertising master. The Jolly Green Giant, the Marlboro Man, Toucan Sam, Charlie the Tuna, Morris the Cat, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the 7up “Spot,” and Tony the Tiger were all designed by him. Burnett earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan and began his career at a low-paying newspaper for $18 a week. However, he had huge dreams, and in the midst of the Great Depression, he founded his own office in Chicago after working for two automobile businesses and two advertising agencies. The first few years were difficult, but his unusual style of work soon won the hearts of the public, and accounts began to flow in. His goal was to bring out the product’s intrinsic attraction, which became known as the Chicago School of Advertising. While the great advertising agencies in New York emphasized sophistication, he emphasized hominess, which gradually changed the face of advertising in the United States in the twentieth century. His tiny organization, which he started with eight workers and one account, has grown into a global advertising agency with over nine thousand employees spread throughout eighty-five offices.

Childhood and Adolescence

Leo Burnett was born in St. Johns, Michigan, on October 21, 1891. Noble Burnett, his father, had a dry goods store. Rose Clark Burnett was his mother.

Burnett used to work at his father’s store a lot as a kid. He used to observe his father produce posters and banners to promote his business at that time. As a result, his father taught him his first lessons in advertising. Soon after, he began creating posters for the school’s football squad.

He had low self-esteem as a teenager and honestly believed that he was not as smart as other lads. He did, however, believe that if he worked really hard, he would eventually ‘average out.’

He developed an interest in journalism in addition to producing posters. He worked as a reporter for various weekly newspapers in the area over the summers while still in high school.
He began teaching at St. Johns’ single-roomed village school after graduating from high school. He later quit his job to pursue a degree in journalism at the University of Michigan.

He supported himself during his undergraduate years by working as a night editor at ‘Michigan Daily’ and creating display cards for a department shop during the day. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1914.

Early on in your career

In Peoria, Illinois, Leo Burnett began his career as a police reporter for the ‘Peoria Journal Star.’ He, on the other hand, had high dreams and hoped to be the publisher of well-known newspapers such as ‘The New York Times.’ He also recognized that if he got into advertising, he could make a lot of money.

Despite this, he continued to work for the ‘Peoria Journal Star,’ without a byline, for $18 a week, chronicling filthy politics and murders. In 1915, he began writing his own biweekly column. It ran for three months under the title ‘Right of Way, a Column About Railroads and Those Who Run Them.’

The young man, however, was unsatisfied because he knew that the automobile, not the train, was America’s future. At this point, his English professor, Dr. Fred Newton Scott, informed him that the Cadillac Motor Company was hiring.

As a result, he quit his work and moved to Detroit. He was chosen an editor of ‘Cadillac Clearing House,’ an in-house journal for Cadillac dealers, in 1916, after a series of interviews and a written test in which he had to compose an essay on ‘the value of cleanliness.’

He was obligated to cover publicity for the corporation at auto exhibitions in locations such as New York and Chicago as part of his job. His work in this field was well-received, and he was promoted to director of advertising within a few years.

During this time, he was trained by Theodore F. MacManus, a prominent person in advertising at the time who was also known for his ethics. Burnett learned the fundamentals of advertising from him.

Burnett was called to military duty while working at the Cadillac, though. He enlisted in the US Navy and spent his six months in the service constructing breakwaters on the Great Lakes.

He returned to Cadillac after his release. After that, when some Cadillac employees left the firm in 1919 to create LaFayette Motors Company in Indianapolis, Burnett followed them and became the company’s advertising executive. He also invested $2000 in the company’s stock.

When LaFayette’s operations were relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1922, Burnett chose to remain in Indianapolis. He had already accepted a job offer from Homer McKee Advertising Agency, and he now serves as its creative director. This was his first time working for a marketing firm.

Burnett held the company’s founder in high regard and learnt numerous skills from him, which he eventually coined the term “warm sell.” It was distinct from existing ‘hard sell’ and’soft sell’ techniques.

The Great Depression began in 1929, when the stock market crashed. Homer McKee, like many other advertising companies, was severely impacted, losing several of its large vehicle customers.

Leo Burnett now had to care for an expanding family. In 1930, he moved from Homer to Chicago, where he found work with Erwin, Wasey & Company, a prominent advertising firm at the time.

The corporation relocated its headquarters to New York shortly after he joined. Burnett was designated Vice President of the company’s Chicago unit in 1931, in charge of its creative activities.

Many of the company’s clientele disliked the company’s hard sell technique. Furthermore, there was a notion that the corporation prioritized East Coast clientele, which irritated the other customers even more.

Burnett was approached by several of these clients about starting his own agency. Initially, his sense of loyalty prevented him from doing so. Burnett eventually relented after his colleagues J. Walter Thompson and Arthur Kudner started their own firm and took over some of Erwin’s accounts.

The Leo Burnett Company, Inc. is a public company based in New York City.
Then Leo Burnett went out to amass the funds. He sold his house, pawned his insurance policies, and took out large bank loans. Finally, on August 5, 1935, he opened the doors of his new company, Leo Burnett Company, Inc, in a suite at the Palmer House in Chicago, with $50,000 in working capital.

It was a hazardous enterprise, especially given Chicago’s distance from the advertising industry’s epicenter. However, several of Erwin, Wasey & Company’s creative employees moved in with Burnett, as did Minnesota Valley Canning Company (now Green Giant Co.), which was previously with Erwin.

The company only billed roughly $1,000,000 each year for the first five years. Apart from the canning company, The Hoover Company and Realsilk Hosiery Mills were two more accounts he was able to keep.

His advertising, on the other hand, won many hearts because they conveyed Midwestern hominess rather than New Yorker elegance and emphasized “the intrinsic drama of the goods.” Pillsbury and Campbell Soup were among the first clients to arrive. The annual billing had surpassed $10 million by 1948.

In 1949, he was hired by Kellogg’s, and by the following year, his annual billing had risen to $22 million. Burnett realized he had made it in 1952, when Procter & Gamble selected him for their institutional campaign.
The corporation soon grew, and by 1954, it was billing $55 million per year. It was hired by Philip Morris to create a campaign for Marlboro cigarettes the following year, and by the end of the decade, it was charging $100 million per year.

Leo Burnett was completely committed to his firm throughout. Despite the fact that the number of clients grew, he made sure that every advertisement was approved by the planning board, of which he was the chairman. At the same time, he ensured that the agency’s atmosphere remained friendly.

Major Projects of Leo Burnett

Experts say Burnett’s most notable piece was the “Marlboro Man” he developed for Philip Morris. Filtered cigarettes were not deemed macho enough at the time, and the corporation struggled to promote the product. Their market share was less than 1%.

To entice customers, Burnett devised a cowboy avatar who not only oozed masculinity but was also distinctly American. Sales soared, and it soon became the most popular cigarette brand in the United States.

Other notable creations include the ‘Jolly Green Giant’ for Minnesota Valley Canning Company, ‘Tony the Tiger’ and ‘Toucan Sam’ for Kellogg’s, ‘Hubert the Lion’ for Harris Bank, ‘Charlie the Tuna’ for Star-Kist, ‘Pillsbury Doughboy’ for Pillsbury, ‘Keebler Elves’ for Keebler, ‘Morris the Cat’ for 9Live

Personal History and Legacy

Leo Burnett married Naomi Geddes in 1918 while working for Cadillac. They met while she was working as a cashier in a small restaurant near his office. Peter, Joseph, and Phoebe were their three children.
Burnett began to suffer from different diseases in the mid-1960s, and he began to relinquish most of his responsibilities. In 1967, he officially retired, but he continued to visit the office at least twice a week.

On June 7, 1971, he reported to work and promised his workers that he would reduce his workload. He died at his family property in Lake Zurich, Illinois, of a heart attack that same evening. He was 79 years old at the time.
Leo Burnett had left a personal legacy that encompassed both his business and creative components, in addition to a successful advertising agency. “Reach for the stars; you may not get one, but you won’t get a handful of mud either,” he used to remark. It is still the company’s slogan.

Estimated Net Worth

Leo is one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs and one of the most well-known. Leo Burnett’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


Burnett put a bowl of apples on the reception desk when he first established his new business in 1935. People laughed and joked that he’d be selling apples on the street in no time. The company did, however, survive, and its offices all across the world still have a bowl of apples on their reception desks. It’s now seen as a sign of Leo Burnett’s friendliness.

He used to always have a notebook with him. He kept a journal in which he would jot down anything intriguing, poignant, or honest that he heard. It was dubbed the ‘Corny Language’ file by him.