Mr. Tennant joined Leo Burnett in 1950 as its first full-time radio-TV writer and producer. He spent 20 years with Burnett, Chicago, during the heyday of some its best-known advertising characters. In 1966, he was named worldwide creative director and chairman of Burnett's legendary creative review committee.
Some news reports credit Mr. Tennant with also creating the Marlboro Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy. But because the Burnett culture was rooted in teamwork, proper credit for those responsible for dreaming up many of Burnett's "critters" and taglines is often ambiguous. "We have absolutely no pride of authorship here," Mr. Burnett himself told Advertising Age in 1950. "Nobody knows for sure who produced which of our ads."
Certainly, Mr. Tennant helped shape many of the early campaigns for Marlboro cigarettes, and the agency says he played a key role in creating "Tony the Tiger" in 1952 for Kellogg Co.'s Frosted Flakes. The character was ranked No. 9 in Ad Age's "Top 10 advertising icons" of the 20th century. Mr. Tennant also was a central team member in crafting the Pillsbury jingle, "Nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the oven," according to former colleagues' accounts. "He was terrific with music. It was one of his strong suits," said Hall "Cap" Adams, a retired Burnett CEO.
"He stood for what Leo stood for, which is ... big enduring ideas, things that people don't forget about after a week or two," said Cheryl Berman, current chairman-chief creative officer of Leo Burnett USA. "It's inspirational for people who work at our place to know and for our clients to know that big ideas can live forever."
Norman Muse, a retired Burnett worldwide creative chief, credits Mr. Tennant for his role in pushing the agency into the broadcast age. "He was a pioneer in broadcast advertising at a time when Leo Burnett was basically a print agency," said Mr. Muse, who started at the agency in the early 1960s. "Don was the one who believed in TV and radio, while others thought print would always carry the day. That really is significant. Nobody really understood [broadcasting] the way Don did."
After resigning from Burnett in late 1970, Mr. Tennant became chief operating officer for Clinton E. Frank, Chicago. In 1973 he started his own agency, Don Tennant Advertising.
Fourteen years later, Spring-field, Mo.-based Noble Communi-cations Co. acquired the agency and renamed it Noble-Tennant, which later folded into Noble & Associates. He was a consultant until the late 1990s, said his son Tim, who is president of the Los Angeles-based agency Aspect.
In addition to Tim, Mr. Tennant is survived by two other children, Andy, a TV and film director, and Tracy, a homemaker. In lieu of a memorial service, Mr. Tennant requested that his family host a large party celebrating his life.