Leo Burnett was a Michigan boy


I was reading up on the famous ad man Leo Burnett today. You know, Leo Burnett of… Leo Burnett Worldwide – the American advertising company that was started in 1935 by the man himself.

Well, Mr. Burnett was born in Michigan to a middle class family. Before he started his own firm in Chicago, Leo worked at the Cadillac Motor Company in Detroit as a copywriter, and eventually an advertising manager. He had a midwestern flavor to him. Burnett believed that the tastes of the Midwest and Heartland folk actually encompassed American sensibilities writ large. If you wanted to speak, or sell, to the American public, then you needed an “earthly vernacular”, instead of clever word play or snobbery. I like it. His school of advertising was to be homespun, straightforward and familiar. I think that works. So much of advertising is b.s., and we know it. It’s nice to hear something that comes along every once in a while that actually rings true.

He also believed that image trumped copy. The photography or illustration being used for an ad needed to be arresting and powerful, so that it would immediately trigger emotions. People instinctively respond to a visual.

Being from the Midwest myself, Burnett’s style and approach resonates with me. And apparently it resonated with most of the country, as Leo Burnett went on to become one of the most famous and celebrated names in the advertising world.

Beyond his philosophies for making great ads, Leo Burnett made some pretty legendary ad characters. He invented the Marlboro Man, the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, the Maytag Repairman, and the Pillsbury doughboy. Hee, hee!

That is what you call giving a product an image. Not just that, but a household name and a face and a personality to boot.

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