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“Interest in life in all its manifestations is the secret of all creative people”. American advertising genius Leo Burnett’s rules of success

"Interest in life in all its manifestations is the secret of all creative people". American advertising genius Leo Burnett's rules of success
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Wherever in the world you open the door to an advertising agency of one of the largest chains, Leo Burnett Worldwide, you will always be offered a juicy apple at the counter. About a hundred offices in 84 countries honor this “apple” tradition, invented by the founder Leo Burnett, paying tribute to the advertising genius every day.


His genius was not immediately recognized. For a long time, Burnett was that weird fellow, writing something in his little room. One of the partners once said something like the following about him, “It was not a mighty tower made of ivory. He sat down there with his sleeves always rolled up and black pencils among a heap of shavings”.

An extraordinary hard work and a desire to move forward made Leo Burnett a model for many creative people. His ideas were especially valuable. Burnett believed that advertising should be interesting and with a twist, but at the same time – believable and honest. Ironically, in the 1920s, when Leo Burnett started out, crystal advertising honesty was a novelty.

The beginning of his life was interesting. Perhaps the world would have admired George Burnett if exactly 130 years ago a nurse in a maternity hospital had heard the name his parents wanted to give their son. Instead of Geo, she wrote Leo, defining the naming of the future best advertising agency.

While there was still time before its foundation, Leo Burnett was engaged in his father’s business – from the age of ten he drew labels for goods in his parent’s grocery store. For every fifty drawings, he received a bag of caramels – exactly 100 grams. The schoolboy Leo Burnett actively wrote for all kinds of youth publications, was a freelance correspondent for three local newspapers at once.

He was actively volunteered to write reports, news and notes. There was no topic that he would not take on. Initialy, the young reporter became the most reliable, and then – irreplaceable. Later Burnett came up with his first formula for success, “If you are not noticed, you are left with nothing”.

Leo Burnett graduated from the University of Michigan School of Journalism, already working as a night editor for the Michigan Daily. Changing jobs, he once was lucky enough to get into the magazine of the Cadillac Motor Сar Company and even lead an advertising campaign for cars. Applying all his talent, Burnett did not just write lyrics, he wrote poetry to machines. That campaign turned out to be quite successful.

The elated future advertising genius has been selling his talent to the HommerMacgi agency for ten years, and then he collaborates with Erwin Vesey and does not get much pleasure – the leadership requires text, and Leo Burnett thinks in images.

At 44, he opens an advertising agency named after himself and says something like this, “Just do good advertising, and the money will come”. He outlines his own basic principles in advertising. They will be included in the textbooks as the basis of the Chicago School of Advertising, after the name of the city in which Burnett opened his brainchild, Leo Burnett Worldwide.

So, the first principle is respect for people, an open heart and a positive attitude. The second is the concept of inherent efficiency. The third – we do not describe the product, we create a simple but strong image. The fourth – we use simple, concise words.

Leo Burnett’s staff were like-minded people. At first they all huddled in a hotel room. The notorious basket of apples was on the table.

Later, when the number of employees increased, journalists still doubted Burnett’s success. It was the time of the Great Depression in the United States, and spiteful critics argued that very soon Leo Burnett would have to sell his apples to make money. “I will give away apples for free!” he answered.

The founder of Leo Burnett Worldwide used non-standard approaches in his campaigns, amusing and annoying conservative advertisers. When the first advertising campaigns were successful, manufacturers realized that market space could be grabbed by stimulating key consumer wants and needs, and customers began to chase Burnett.

The founder of Minnesota Valley frozen vegetables said, “I want to get that little guy with dandruff and a rumpled suit,” referring to Burnett. And he was right.

Leo Burnett managed to completely rethink the brand familiar to Americans and breathe new life into it. He just revived the logo of the “green man”, filling it with new meanings, adding a smile. It was so successful that the company soon changed its name to a recognizable character, becoming Green Giant Co.

The brutal Marlboro cowboy is also the work of Leo Burnett. Just think, he managed to convince Americans to smoke filter cigarettes without losing courage. Interestingly, at first, Marlboro produced products with a filter only for women, dyeing it red, under the slogan “Delicate Like May”.

Repositioning and boosting sales to a male audience seemed like unrealistic goals for company representatives. But Leo Burnett, with the help of a successful masculine image, managed to position the men as well. In two years, the company’s turnover has quadrupled to $20 billion.

Another successful Leo Burnett Worldwide project is Tony’s tiger, the symbol of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, which has grown to become the country’s national heroes.

Successful advertising campaigns were attributed to the founder’s special talent and workaholism. However, his employees were the same. “Either Leo Burnett has surrounded himself with the same hard-working like-minded people, or his workaholism is contagious,” the journalists got lost, trying to unravel the source of Leo Burnett Worldwide’s success.

“Interest in life in all its manifestations is the secret of all creative people,” the genius Leo Burnett answered them. By the way, his agencies distribute more than 750 thousand apples every year, covering a third of the most famous brands in the world with advertising campaigns.

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