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What would the great Leo Burnett have made of today’s ad agencies?

Unlike most legends he left a visual legacy, this address to the troops at his agency dating from the height of the Mad Men era in 1967. Hardly Don Draper but DD would have found much to admire in this.

The address is called ‘when to take my name off the door’ and outlines the standards he expects of Leo Burnett people, couched in Raymond Chandler-esque language at times with copious references to ‘the lonely man’ who toils away with his pencil or typewriter to produce the ‘good hard wonderful work’ that is the real measure of the agency’s success.

And Burnett himself, a former reporter and Cadillac ad manager who started his agency in 1935, authored a fair bit of that himself. He invented the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s and, rather more contentiously, ‘The Marlboro Man.’

The agency’s ‘fly the friendly skies’ campaign for United Airlines, which began in 1965, is vintage Burnett and remains the best airline campaign.

So what would Leo have made of today’s agencies, especially the giant holding companies like Publicis Groupe which now owns his agency (Burnett died aged 78 in 1971)?

I doubt that he would have been impressed, in his speech he castigates the pursuit of size for size’s sake (and money of course). And the agency still declines to chase every account going, preferring to focus on a small number of big accounts.

But Leo would surely have been pleased with much of the creative work around today, some of it collected here in Campaign’s pick of the best ads of the passing year.

Most of it’s from the UK from the likes of Mother, Adam & Eve and The Red Brick Road. But this Puma ad by Droga5 New York is wonderful. Leo would have been proud of this one.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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