On this day in 1976, Leo Burnett (1891-1971) gave a speech to the gathered executives of his advertising agency, Leo Burnett Worldwide. In his talk, which has become known as “The When to Take My Name Off the Door Speech,” Burnett challenged his employees to never forget that advertising is not just about making a buck; it’s about the creative process (1).
In his illustrious career, Burnett created some of the most influential characters in the history of advertising, including the Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, and the Maytag Repairman.
Burnett opened his ad agency in the middle of the Great Depression, and on the day it opened, he famously put a bowl of apples in the reception area. His brash move of opening a business in the middle of the Depression caused some to say that it wouldn’t be long before he was selling those apples on the street. Instead, the company thrived, and by the end of the 1950s, it was earning over 100 million dollars annually.
The book The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived ranks fictional characters from literature, fable, myth, and popular culture. The writers, Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter, got the idea to write the book after reading Michael Hart’s book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.
The fictional character ranked as the number one most influential is Leo Burnett’s creation, The Marlboro Man. The burly cowboy was the symbol of Marlboro Cigarettes beginning in 1955. By 1972, Marlboro was the top cigarette brand in the world, and by 2000 it owned a 35 percent market share of U.S. cigarette sales (2).
The following are other influential characters, each born in the imagination of a creative individual and brought to life on a page or a screen:
Hamlet, Oedipus, Dracula, Atticus Finch, Hester Prynne, Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Big Brother, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Prometheus, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Uncle Sam, Ebenezer Scrooge
Today’s Challenge: Unforgettable Favorite from Fiction
What fictional characters would make your list of the most influential? What makes them so special? Write a short speech making your case for the single character that you think should receive the award for most influential. Make sure to provide enough detailed evidence to show what makes this character so important, not just to you, but to society at large. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
1-Daye, Derrick. Great Moments in Advertising: Leo Burnett’s Speech. Brand Strategy Insider 28 Oct. 2007. http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2007/10/great-moments-3-2.html#.V3xid-srLnB.
2-Lazar, Allan, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter. The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.