Ad Ethics: When to Take Leo Burnett’s Name Off the Door

Just what exactly makes a company “good,” especially when that company is an advertising agency? Leo Burnett, founder of the eponymous ad agency, had a pretty good handle on the answer to that question back in 1967 when he made his retirement speech titled “When to take my name off the door.” Now, on the 75th anniversary of the firms beginning, a Brazilian design studio has made a stylish retro animation to celebrate the executive behind such iconic advertising campaigns as the Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger and the Marlboro Man. If you’re addicted to watching Mad Men like so many others, this fellow is the real deal.

The famous goodbye from Burnett is a call for ethical productivity in all creative ventures, a tribute to the “lonely man” who stays at his desk late in the night working toward reaching one of those “hot, unreachable stars.” It is a speech that still applies exceedingly well to our current day. He starts with an acknowledgment that someday the company may want to remove his name from the door… but more importantly, he lays out the actions that would make him demand it be removed: “That will be the day when you spend more time trying to make money and less time making advertising – our kind of advertising,” he begins.

The animated video creates the perfect aesthetic backdrop for Burnett’s voice, coming to us from the days of scratchy recordings on old magnetic tape. His cartoon visage, playfully hopping through a black and white world, is brought to life with equal skill, in the flat mod style of sixties animation, complete with a dusty finish. The final product sells itself, and goes to show that no matter how long it’s been forgotten, good advice doesn’t stay dusty for long.

Leo Burnett’s complete speech from 1967:


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