Since it opened its doors in Chicago in 1935, the advertising agency Leo Burnett has created a whole range of memorable communication equities for its clients including Charlie the Tuna for Starkist Tuna, Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (or Frosties as they are known in the UK), The Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Keebler Elves, Morris the Cat for 9-Lives cat food and the Jolly Green Giant.
The last of these was created for one of the company’s first clients, the Minnesota Canning Company however the icon proved so successful that the company renamed itself Green Giant.
However one of its most enduring icons wasn’t created even created for one of its clients, it was created for the agency itself and on the very first day that Leo Burnett Inc. opened its doors for business; August 5, 1935.
As Leo Burnett later explained in Stephen R. Fox’s ‘The Mirror Makers’ “My associates and I saw the opportunity to offer a creative service badly needed in the Middle West. I sold my house, hocked all my insurance, and took a dive off the end of a springboard.”
And the icon that was created that day was Leo Burnett’s legendary bowl of apples.
To brighten up the place and provide a warm welcome for any and all visitors, their first receptionist (whose name perhaps disappointingly seems to have been lost to time) set out a bowl of apples. Given that this was the middle of the depression it was bold, optimist and friendly statement.
Word quickly got around Chicago that Leo Burnett was serving apples to his visitors and one cynical newspaper columnist cracked, “It won’t be long ’til Leo Burnett is selling apples on the street cornet instead of giving them away.”
To be fair, the columnist was only saying many people in the media industry were thinking; namely that it was the height of folly to start an advertising agency not only in the midst of the Depression, but in Chicago and not on Madison Avenue in New York where all the other leading agencies were based.
However the apples were very much on brand. They fitted exactly with the philosophy that Leo Burnett espoused. This is the man who said “When you’re on your economic bottom, then the only way to go is up.” And whose agency motto is “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”
Today and every day if you visit a Leo Burnett agency you will still see in reception, sitting in pride of place, a welcoming bowl of apples.
It has been estimated that in the last ten years, the Chicago headquarters has given away more than two million apples to employees, clients and visitors – now that’s food for thought.