BURNETT - AN ENDURING CULTURE; AT THE 60-YEAR MARK, THE AGENCY STILL HEWS TO THE ROCK-SOLID VALUES AND PRINCIPLES OF ITS FOUNDER
The ways of new business are often mysterious. Burnett has had a historic propensity to take in young account and media trainees, build them up to executive potential and then see them hired away to the client side, where they have the potential to constitute a vast Burnett new-business "fifth columm."
Billings tripled from $7 million to $22 million between 1945 and 1950, a
time when a million bucks was real money.
The Green Giant trademark created by Burnett grew to such proportions by
1950 that it replaced Minnesota Valley Canning as the corporate name. And
it must have pleased Leo on the 15th anniversary of his agency its growth
was driven almost entirely by print.
Yet Leo's reputation for black pencils and notepads perpetuated the agency's image as a print shop when TV was growing geometrically. This despite the fact 25% of those $22 million by 1950 was in broadcast, including "Howdy Doody" (sponsored by Kellogg and Mars), Arthur Godfrey's show (Pillsbury) and also Art Linkletter's (Green Giant). Two years later, TV would reach 40% of agency billings.
The demands of TV put new pressures on the agency. A growing list of
package-good brands, highlighted by the first Procter & Gamble business
("L-A-V-A, L-A-V-A" for radio's "FBI in Peace and War") in 1952, were pouring through the door and asking for TV campaigns. The agency had to find ways to make its print-prone principles stand up and sing and dance for the cameras.
A growing menagerie of animals and other cartoon critters accumulated in Burnett's TV work, starting with Tony the Tiger for Kellogg.
November 1954 brought Philip Morris and Marlboro. Burnett repackaged the brand in a flip-top box and repositioned it from a lady-like elegance to a grizzled masculinity on horseback. A decade later, almost as a reparation, Burnett helped launch Virginia Slims ("You've come a long way, baby, to get where you got to today . . ."). With P&G and Philip Morris, Leo was whipping Madison Avenue at its own game.
By the agency's 20th birthday in 1955, as a new generation was beginning its climb, the founders and their early proteges were at the pinnacle of their careers, ruling an agency of 625 employees, 28 clients and about $60 million in billings. Of seven officers, three had been present at the creation: Messrs. Burnett, O'Kieffe and Cary. Mr. Heath and Ross Gamble came a year later. Only creatives Andy Armstrong (the original model for the Marlboro Man) and William Young joined after the war. Seventy-two employees held Burnett stock. Leo was named chairman that year and Mr. Heath became president.
In October, everybody celebrated with a Pabst, the agency's first real entry into the beer business after an odd four-month encounter with Schlitz in 1952. The Schlitz experience was not for naught, though: Burnett merely shelved its campaign based on the slogan "What'll You Have?" and sold it to Pabst three years later.
Schlitz, the country's leading beer in the mid-'50s, would come back to Burnett in 1961 a poor second to Budweiser. But all the "gusto" in the world couldn't save it from a Miller Brewing onslaught that pushed it to No. 3 by the '70s. Schlitz would leave Burnett for good in '78.
In November 1956, Burnett moved into five-plus floors of the new Prudential Building, where the agency would remain for the next 33 years.
Don Tennant joined as a copywriter in 1950, Draper Daniels as a creative director in 1954. Three years later, Mr. Daniels replaced Mr. Armstrong and Bill Tyler as head of what was then called the "art, television and copy departments," just as the agency hit $100 million. Bob Noel, Don Keller, Gene Kolkey and Rudy Perz were among the many who arrived during this period, all eager to work on TV, which accounted for nearly 60% of volume.
The "critter" population was growing faster than agency billings. Keller and Tom Rogers created Charlie the Tuna. But it was the self-effacing Mr. Noel who ended up heading the agency's unofficial "department of elves and gnomes," as he helped bring forth Hubert the Harris Lion for Chicago's Harris Bank, the Little Green Sprout for Green Giant, Morris the Cat for 9 Lives, the Keebler Elves and a TV version of the Green Giant himself.
By the time Pillsbury introduced a line of fresh dough products in the mid-'60s, the agency was running low on lovable characters. "People thought the first thing we did when we got a new assignment," says Mr.Perz, "was hit the Golden Book of Animals to see which creature hadn't been taken yet."
What Mr. Perz came up with was an ectomorphic lump of dough that blushed when poked in the tummy. At the Creative Review Committee (the CRC, a manifestation of Burnett culture that brought creative iconoclasm to heel and enforced a kind of "quality control"), Leo smiled and asked what his name was. "How about Poppin' Fresh?" Mr. Perz suggested. "That's it!" Leo said.