Commentary by Jonah Bloom

Leo Burnett Taught Us a Few Things About the Internet

Marketers Can No Longer Sidestep the Age of Interactivity

By Published on .

When Brad Brinegar, now CEO of McKinney & Silver, was just a young pup at Burnett he used to sneak down into the agency's vaults at lunchtime and trawl through
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
the filing cabinets to find old notes from the agency's great founder. He recalls finding an interesting memo sent by Leo back in 1954, in which he told his managers that TV would change their business and that they had to be ready for that change.

In the memo, as Brinegar recalls, Leo also suggested it would not be enough simply to hire new people who know how to make ads for TV, because the existing staff -- whose focus was mainly on producing print ads -- would also have to understand and be able to work in the new medium.

Incubation for a new medium
As we consider the development of the Internet as a marketing tool, this tale reminds us that a decade is a mere incubation period for a new medium. The FCC announced in 1940 that TV in the U.S. would be a commercial medium that it would regulate, and yet it was 1954 before one of the industry's visionaries started really readying his agency for its impact.

Yes, the media world changes faster today, with instant information dissemination, so the comparison is a touch apples and oranges.

For Leo Burnett, reaching for the stars meant seizing on new media realities early and in a big way.
But the speed with which business folk change their methods hasn't changed so much. In fact, with more businesses now publicly held and accountable, greater media scrutiny and a culture of fear dominating most large corporations, it would be no surprise if agencies and marketers were slower to adapt to a new medium now than they were in the 1940s and '50s.

The most interesting thing about Leo's memo, however, is that he understood not only that TV was going to change the agency, but also that he needed his best existing employees to be able to make and sell great TV commercials. He felt, and the growth of his agency over the next 20 years proved his point, that creating a new silo of TV specialists at the end of a corridor somewhere was inadequate.

Retraining the talent
Agencies need to apply his thinking to the Internet -- retraining existing talent as well as integrating existing specialists into core units and adding Net-savvy talent.

It might be a 3% or 4% ad medium by share of budget today, but it's at a tipping point and there's every reason to think it will be a 10% medium within the next two years. Recent studies have shown that the average American spends 15% of his or her media time on the Net -- for younger age groups the figure approaches 50%. Broadband penetration into U.S. households has passed 40%, spawning rapid growth of home entertainment applications, voice over Internet protocol and online gaming, all of which refuel broadband growth.

Smart Web work
Interactive marketing can no longer be a skunk project for agencies that want to have relevant solutions. The smartest creatives are already thinking in Net-applicable ideas. See Goodby's Internet work for HP, Crispin's Subservient Chicken for Burger King, Ogilvy's Superman movies for Amex, and my favorite, Wieden's Beta 7 campaign for Sega, which was an Andy winner last week.

As Andrew Robertson, worldwide president of BBDO says, you don't have to be a pioneer experimenting with clients' money, but you do have to be able to move when the consumer moves. And the consumer is moving.

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