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"HumanKind" set for release as Leo Burnett (quietly) turns 75

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Ad agencies are supposed to be all about generating buzz. But there hasn't been much of it -- as yet --about one big birthday being celebrated this year in the Chicago ad community.

We're talking about the 75th anniversary of the founding of Leo Burnett. It's a significant milestone for an agency that for many years represented the essence of what might be called the Chicago school of advertising. That particular style isn't as front of mind now as it was 20 or 30 years ago. But the heartwarming advertising that had wonderful storytelling at its core was for a long while synonymous with brands such as Hallmark cards and McDonald's that have been at Burnett for decades.

A good chunk of Burnett's 75th anniversary year already has passed, but one thing the agency is doing to mark its birthday is the publication of a new book called "HumanKind," a 250-page-plus summation in words and images of everything the agency has learned about brand building in its three-quarters of a century in business. The two authors listed on the cover are Burnett Worldwide CEO Tom Bernardin and Burnett Worldwide chief creative officer Mark Tutssel. But sources say Dan Santow, a PR executive with Edelman/Chicago, was the ghostwriter of much -- if not all -- of the text.

We'll save a fuller review of the book for closer to the official Oct. 2 publication date, but suffice it to say the book looks to be an elaborate attempt to repackage the basic tenets of advertising in terms more in sync with the way the business is perceived in this digital world. Bernardin and Tutssel still contend that advertising at heart is about communication, it's just that the way the communication manifests itself has changed.

Many will see "HumanKind" and contend it is a coffee table tome in the same vein as Saatchi & Saatchi honcho Kevin Roberts' recent "Lovemarks" book about evolved branding. The two books certainly have a similar, very visual design, and both have the same publisher, Brooklyn-based PowerHouse.

No doubt Burnett executives would have preferred that this 75th anniversary fall on a year when the flagship Chicago office could boast of huge account wins and a major sense of momentum. The year 2010 isn't over yet, but so far it has been another quiet one for the agency in terms of new business.

While there have been some encouraging signs at Burnett of a return to advertising that celebrates strong storytelling, especially for McDonald's, the agency's creative output still can be frustratingly uneven.

4 Comments

This a akin to the Union Pacific Railroad putting out a book about the glory of trains just as the airline business was taking off. Leo is as old-school as old-school gets, basically offering clients mediocre creative at very high prices. And god forbid you're looking for integration. They'll trot 12 people to a meeting who have never met each other. And those people will then arm-wrestle over which silo the billings go to. As for the book, this is something Ben Klein came up with and that wine-swilling globetrotter Tutsell (when will die from gout?) and that moron Bernadin have basically stolen and called their own. Leo has always been a political hellhole for people who want to make a lot of money, live on the North Shore and jockey for position on an org chart. The work has never and will never come first in that kind of environment.

Someday, someone will write the real story of the Leo Burnett agency. About the greedy group that took it public so they could benefit financially-follow the money and you'll see who they are. About the e-meter creative head who didn't want to pitch pharma accounts because they went against the tenets of her so-called religion, about the numerous sexual harassment cases and office affairs. Now that would make a great book. It's beyond ironic that a place known for so many sordid things would produce a book about humanity and humankind. Is it that love of humanity that makes them sell cancer for the Phillip Morris company?

Interesting comments above, as real challenges exist in branding oneself a HumanKind Company and creating a culture to match. That was the grand plan, but to do so requires change. In retrospect, the belief that we could change was perhaps the naive flaw in the plan.

So is the HumanKind philosophy a coffee table book or something more?

The HumanKind philosophy was originated in 2006 in an effort to restore Leo Burnett to the beliefs of the man, not the modern organization.
It was meant to answer a simple question:
"If Leo were alive today, how would he use digital technology to communicate the inherent drama of a product and tell simple stories"

He led Leo Burnett through the transition from print to TV by creating a simple formula to guide the talent assembled:

Metaphors, which took the form of characters, which lived and grew within fictitious worlds, like the American West, a treehouse, or a variety of other real things, animated or idealized. Brilliant campaigns were created for great clients and a global company was born. The critter agency to some, a famous agency to all.

So, what would Leo do to tell stories in 2005, as digital technology continued to disrupt the advertising industry?

He would change. And, he would lead. Or throw a bunch of apples down the elevators and quit. He wouldn't limp along.

Leo would have said 'well goddammit if the game is now about digital storytelling, let's get in the game and tell digital stories'. Truth be told, he wouldn't have called it anything, he would have done it. Like Jeff Goodby and Dan Wieden have done over the past five years. That said, we needed to call it something to clearly communicate across 84 borders and cultures, both our own and clients.

So HumanKind was intended to signify the change to becoming a digital agency, while staying true to the legacy of the man.

The underlying premise for HumanKind, was for Leo Burnett to take advantage of the brands, infra-structure and geography (84) offices that had been created through the hard work of Leo and a number of truly great people. To hire, train, evolve and become digital at the core within 24 months.

So, how do you become an agency with digital thinking and content production at the core of your offering, while staying true to the core beliefs of Leo Burnett, a great advertising man? How do you say it in a single word, that is understood across the world?

HumanKind

Human
Human is about Human Purpose. The collective purpose a brand shares with those that buy it.
Why does a brand exist for people, what does it believe, and how can the brand make a difference for buyers and the the broader community. Nothing earth shattering. More marketing effectiveness philosophy, not a brand building system or Tool Kit. A way of thinking and acting that was true to Leo and could build a powerful business and culture at Leo Burnett once again.

Kind
Kind was spelled with a capital K to draw one's attention to Planned Acts of HumanKindness (there were many meetings and debates and we actually had to move from Planned Acts of HumanKindness to HumanKind Acts by Ben Kline and the US team). This was an important shift as brands evolved from positioning/promises to further a purpose through Acts that provided utility (read digital) and make a difference in people's lives.

Acts
A retail promotion, new packaging, mobile application, experiences global movement, etc.
Acts that demonstrate a companies purpose and conviction, rather than messaging at people. They should understand people and be kind to them in return for their behavior. Pretty simple stuff.

To be a HumanKind Company capable of creating Acts would require a seamless integration of Arc, investment in digital and production capabilities, and the creation of a HumanKind culture that supports collaboration and co-creation.

There's a video that is a couple of years old on Youtube that explains the marketing effectiveness story better. The original is in Italian, created by the good and talented team at LB Italy, later translated to English (thank you Giorgio for your help at a time of need).

This would create a unique agency. A marketing partner capable of serving client customers through creative ideas. It wouldn't be about branding people with LoveMarks, or Disrupting people in their lives, it would be about utilizing marketing to serve people. Wouldn't that be a nice world to live in as a consumer where 99% of the messaging is at you.
It would be great if a company could do that.

This was the original, maybe naive intention of the idea. Today it may be a coffee table book, it may be something more. I know the US planning team, led by Ben Kline, embraced, improved, and built tools/workshops to support the idea (supporting the comment above).

Nothing earth shattering here, just the summary of 72 years (at the time) of business, 17 years and 4 continents for me, and lot's a great friendships. A summary of a company in a word. A company that took a chance on me as a wayward youngster, paid for me to see the world, and provided access to great people and knowledge. So in a wierdish digital way, thanks Leo Burnett the man for all that you have taught, and to the company, I hope HumanKind is more than a coffee table book.

Lewis, I hope this helps you fill in the blanks if this story is even news.

Pat Goggin
ex EVP @LB
now Partner/Jacobson Rost

What agency is the leader in setting trends?

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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