Leo Burnett


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

Leo Burnett was born in St. Johns, Michigan, on October 21, 1891, the son of Noble and Rose Clark Burnett. Noble ran a dry goods store and young Leo worked with him, watching as his father designed posters and advertisements for the business. After high school, Burnett studied journalism at the University of Michigan and received his bachelor”s degree in 1914.

Burnett”s first job after college was as a reporter for the Peoria Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois. In 1917 he moved to Detroit and was hired to edit an in-house publication of Cadillac Motor Car Company, Cadillac Clearing House, and later became its advertising director…At Cadillac, Burnett met his advertising mentor, Theodore F. MacManus, whom Burnett called “one of the great advertisers of all time.” MacManus ran the agency that handled Cadillac”s advertising.

In 1918, Burnett married Naomi Geddes. The couple met in a restaurant near the Cadillac offices, where Naomi was a cashier. They had three children: Peter, Joseph and Phoebe.

In World War I, Burnett joined the U.S. Navy for six months, serving mostly at Great Lakes Naval Station building a breakwater. His service was spent mostly at the Great Lakes Naval Station building a breakwater. After Navy service, Burnett returned to Cadillac. Some Cadillac employees formed LaFayette Motors Company, which prompted Burnett to move to Indianapolis to work for the new company. He was soon offered a position with Homer McKee. He then left LaFayette and joined McKee, where Burnett said of the founder, “(He) gave me my first sense of what I have come to think of as the ”warm sell” as opposed to the ”hard sell” and the ”soft sell.”” This was his first agency job.

After spending a decade at McKee”s and weathering 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.

In 1935, he founded the Leo Burnett Company, Inc. Subsequently, the operation moved to the 18th floor of the London Guarantee Building. Today, the agency has more than 9,000 employees in more than 85 offices worldwide.

In December 1967, near the end of his career, Burnett delivered his “When to take my name off the door” speech at the agency”s Christmas meeting.

On June 7, 1971, Burnett went to his agency and committed to his colleagues to work three days a week due to health problems. That night, at age 79, he died of a heart attack at his family”s farm in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois. He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

During the early years, Burnett billed about $1 million a year. By 1950, the turnover had increased to $22 million and by 1954 to $55 million. By the end of the 1950s, the Leo Burnett Company was grossing $100 million a year. …

Burnett used dramatic realism in his advertising, the so-called soft-sell approach to generating brand equity. Burnett believed in finding the “inherent drama” of products and presenting it in advertising through warmth, emotions and shared experiences. His advertising drew on values rooted in the heart of the country using simple, strong, instinctive images that spoke to people. He was also known for using “cultural archetypes” in his copy (the name given to copywriting), creating mythical creatures that represented American values. This is evident in campaigns such as The Green Giant, Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger and, most famously, The Marlboro Man. In fact, these campaigns played on the 1950s attitudes toward masculinity that permeated their campaigns.

Corny language

Burnett was known to have a folder in the lower left-hand corner of his desk called “Corny Language”. In it he collected words, phrases and analogies that he found particularly apt to express an idea. …

In 1947, Burnett wrote The Good Citizen, a pamphlet on the duties and privileges of being an American citizen. He performed this task as a public service for The Advertising Council and The American Heritage Foundation.


  1. Leo Burnett
  2. Leo Burnett