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Advertising Legends – Leo Burnett


Advertising-legends series: 1. Bill Bernbach (click here) 2. David Ogilvy (click here) 3.  Leo Burnett 
By Will Brown of eyeconomy.co.uk 

Leo Burnett was an advertising executive (as well as copywriter and visualizer / art director – overall creative) who created famous advertising icons such as Jolly Green Giant, Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger and more.

After university and a few years as a journalist, he joined Cadillac (cars), in 1917, as a copywriter. He joined his first advertising agency in 1923 (aged 32), and started up his own (Leo Burnett Worldwide) in Chicago in 1935.

Visualizer / Impact on TV
Burnett is remembered for effectively basing advertisements and campaigns around visual concepts, instead of just communicating to the audience via copy. He wasn’t the first person in advertising to do this. But was one of the first to make visuals important – playing a crucial role, in effect, of helping to put visuals on power with copy as a communications tool, in general, in the advertising industry. And this, in turn, had an important impact on the development of advertising  in TV – something which Burnett, himself, played a crucial role in.

Searching for the inherent drama
One of his important advertising concepts was “searching for the inherent drama” of the product. “You have to be noticed but the art is getting noticed naturally, without screaming and without tricks” – similar to a quote of David Ogilvy (another famous 20th century advertising executive and copywriter/creative) “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”

Emotional / evocative approach
Although Burnett is best remembered for his visualising input into advertising (and the effect of this on television advertising) he is also remembered for taking on a more emotional / evocative approach to advertising, overall, compared to many of his important competitors at the time, who were often much more research-based and marketing-focused.

Outsider / genius
Burnett was a bit of an outsider in the sense that he wasn’t a flamboyant individual (unusual in the ad industry – at least, for an ad man of his stature) and that he was based in Chicago as opposed to Madison Avenue (the centre of advertising in his day), New York. But his work demonstrated someone who had his finger very much on the pulse when it came to understanding American audiences and how best to communicate to them. But, perhaps, being an outsider gave him the space he needed to be the kind of advertising genius he is remembered for.


Video: Leo Burnett on advertising


  • Advertising is the ability to sense, interpret… to put the very heart throbs of a business into type, paper and ink
  • Anyone who thinks that people can be fooled or pushed around has an inaccurate and pretty low estimate of people – and he won’t do very well in advertising
  • Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.
  • If you can’t turn yourself into your customer, you probably shouldn’t be in the ad writing business at all.
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