Scratching the Back of the Hand that Feeds You

In December of 1958, advertising executive Leo Burnett — a hugely influential force in the industry who had a hand in creating, amongst many other things, the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, and Marlboro Man — sent the following memo to all staff within his agency, and reminded them of their unwritten duty to at least try the very products they helped to advertise to the nation; the sales of which funded their salaries.

(Don’t miss the P.S.)

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of AdAge.

Image: AdAge


December 16, 1958


FROM: Leo Burnett

Re: Scratching the Back of the Hand that Feeds You

This is a land (and a company) of free choice and free speech.

In this memo I would like to exercise my own right to free speech to express some thoughts about choice.

I hope you know me well enough to realize that your opportunities with this company have nothing whatsoever to do with your personal way of life or the products you use. Loyalty, obviously, cannot be legislated.

Nevertheless, I would like to get off my chest some thoughts that have been smouldering for a long time. I present them only as the way I personally feel. If they don’t relate to you, that’s that, and no harm done.

As you well know, your income and mine are derived 100% from the sale of the products of our clients.

During the 36 years I have been in the agency business I have always been naively guided by the principle that if we do not believe in the products we advertise strongly enough to use them ourselves, or at least to give them a real try, we are not completely honest with ourselves in advertising them to others.

The very least we can do is to remain neutral, and I guess this memo was touched off by two recent incidents.

Recently I overheard one of our people sound off with some loud and derogatory remarks about what lousy cars Chrysler makes — how they fall apart — “I guess I’ll stick to a Chevy, etc.”

In another instance I heard one of our people who smokes Winstons, I believe, say to a group of outsiders, when offered a Marlboro, “I can’t smoke those things!”

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is going a bit too far.

The net of the way I feel is this:

Naturally you don’t need to do all your banking at Harris, but you should certainly think of Harris when opening a new or separate account.

Maybe you don’t eat canned vegetables, but if you do, those products with the Green Giant label should find a space in your shopping cart.

Certainly nobody would suggest that you tear up your insurance program, but shouldn’t you look at the Allstate story on any new coverage you want?

If the picture is still sharp on your old RCA, keep on looking, but do look at Motorola when you change. The same applies to vacuum cleaners and washing machines.

Maybe you have bunions and need a special orthopedic shoe, but you might consider Buster Browns or Robinhoods for those nice, normal feet your kids run around on.

When you go on your next car-trading expedition, one of the Chrysler lines should at least be on your looking-list.

Generally, the products of our clients enable us to have a good breakfast, keep the house clean, wash our clothes, fertilize our lawns, neatly plaster up cuts and bruises, gas up the car (one of “ours”), insure it, keep our faces, teeth, and dishes clean, bake a cake or pie, have soup, tuna, spaghetti, peas or corn for lunch or dinner, send our hogs to market faster, make our hens lay more eggs, walk well-shod and relax with a good cigarette while we watch TV or listen to Stereo Hi-Fi.

I recognize the unconscious spirit of rebellious independence that exists in all of us, and the compulsion you or I may have to demonstrate that we wear no man’s yoke. I have always felt, however, that there were better and more rewarding ways of doing this than in conspicuously avoiding or flouting the products of the people who pay our way.

I’ll let the kids off the hook. I don’t believe in the principle of reminding them of where their living is coming from. (They’ll learn soon enough as it is.) If, for example, they are attracted to a premium offered by General Mills or General Foods, bless their fickle little hearts. We’ll catch ’em next time.

I guess my feeling is pretty well summed up in the remarks of the vice-president of a competitive agency. When asked why he was smoking a not-too-popular brand of cigarettes which his company advertised, he replied:

“In my book there is no taste or aroma quite like that of bread and butter”

Leo Burnett/ms

P.S. Inasmuch as this memo expresses an entirely personal point of view, I can’t resist adding that if any of us eats those nauseating Post Toasties or Wheaties, for example, in preference to the products of Kellogg’s, I hope he chokes on them; and if any of us fertilizes his lawn without first trying Golden Vigoro, I hope it turns to a dark, repulsive brown. If you smoke cigarettes and your taste is so sensitive that it discriminates strongly between “our brands” and competitive ones, please, as a personal favor, don’t put the competitive package in front of me on the conference room table, because it does things to my blood pressure.