Leo Burnett Worldwide

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Leo Burnett Worldwide, Inc. is an advertising company that developed "The Marlboro Man" ads. Headquartered in Chicago, U.S., it has offices in 84 countries. [1]

It is the second largest ad agency in the U.S. (after WPP Group's JWT) and besides Marlboro, has helped create such top brands as Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereal and its Tony the Tiger icon. Hoovers writes, "Its Arc Worldwide subsidiary provides promotional and direct marketing services, as well as multimedia and interactive marketing development. Vigilante acts as an urban marketing firm, while Lapiz Integrated Hispanic Marketing creates campaigns for Spanish-speaking audiences. Leo Burnett is owned by French ad conglomerate Publicis." [2]

Overbilling the U.S. Army

In January 2009, Leo Burnett agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle charges that it over-billed the U.S. Army for work on its 'Army of One' campaign," while still claiming that it "believes the government's claims are without merit." Leo Burnett was charged with inflating its expenses on the Army account, by billing for work done by its Internet division as if the division were an independent subcontractor, and by excluding "lower cost smaller subcontractors [when] proposing, negotiating and billing its hourly rate in 2000 and 2001." Details of the over-billing were provided by two former Leo Burnett employees who became whistleblowers and filed suit against the firm in 2004. Leo Burnett worked on the "lucrative account" for five years, attempting "to craft a campaign that would help stop shortfalls in the Army's recruiting and retention targets, which were being hampered by the Iraq war." Leo Burnett is part of the Publicis Groupe communications giant; Interpublic Group's McCann-Erickson now has the Army contract. "This isn't the first time a Madison avenue firm has become embroiled in an over-billing scandal," notes the Wall Street Journal. In 2002, WPP's Ogilvy & Mather paid $1.8 million to settle charges that it had over-billed the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. [3]

Marlboro Man campaign

The original Marlboro Man may be long dead of lung cancer, but the Marlboro Man campaign rides on. Thirty years after the ads' introduction by Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, the Marlboro brand was inducted into the Market Hall of Fame because of its "enduring success in the marketplace."

The campaign illustrates two key factors in Leo Burnett's success -- vivid imagery (they also developed the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, and the Pillsbury Doughboy) and client loyalty. Many of its biggest clients have been with the company for decades. Its longest relationship is with Green Giant, which has been with Leo Burnett for 60 years. Other long-term clients include Pillsbury (now Green Giant's parent), Kellogg, and of course, Philip Morris (which makes Marlboro). As these companies have expanded their global operations, Leo Burnett has followed, and its reach now extends to more than 60 countries. The advertising business is changing, and Leo Burnett is keeping up. It has become increasingly involved with creating interactive media sites for some of its clients (including McDonald's and Kelloggs), and is flexible enough to adopt new performance-based billing arrangements which are becomign increasingly common in the industry, instead of sticking with percentage fees. Burnett is a private company.

Helping Philip Morris downplay secondhand smoke dangers

A Leo Burnett strategy plan titled Project Brass: A Plan of Action for the ETS Issue, written for Philip Morris (PM), reveals how the company helped PM fight the very potent threat of the issue of Environmental Tobacco Smoke, or ETS, posed to the tobacco industry. The Plan states:

For the first time, report provides alleged proof of link between ETS and cancer...Shifts argument from 'personal choice' to 'smoking is unhealthy for everyone'...Arms antis with scientific proof to go to OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]...Fuels emotional hysteria of antis...Will likely accelerate efforts to prohibit/restrict smoking further...Alters image of smoker [from] 'Bad for him/her,' to 'smoker is bad for all of us.'...Puts further pressure on volume/revenue/profit trends.

The strategies Burnett proposed to fight the ETS issue were 1) to broaden the ETS issue to encompass total indoor air quality (and thus deflect attention away from the ETS issue), 2) to use "credible third parties" to help the company fight public health measures, and 3) to "create a sense of doubt about the EPA ETS report" [Page 30].

PM did employ, and continues to employ, many of the strategies Burnett proposed in this document. For example, PM continues to "Frame the issue as a bigger one that just ETS" by claiming ventilation (not smoking bans) is the best solution to secondhand smoke. PM creates and works through "credible" third parties like the "Hospitality Coalition for Indoor Air." In virtually every venue where a public health smoking restriction is proposed, some business group claims that the law is too much "government intervention," an anti-government strategy that Burnett proposed PM use in Project Brass (see the strategy Burnett describes on Page 25, "Raise Flag of Government Intervention: Attempts to shift focus from EPA ETS report to one of the government interfering again").[1]


Current or past clients include:[1]


Contact details

35 W. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
United States
Phone: 312 220 5959
Fax: 312 220 3299
Web: http://www.leoburnett.com

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 About page, Leo Burnett Worldwide, accessed April 2008.
  2. Profile: Leo Burnett Worldwide, Hoovers, accessed April 2008.
  3. Suzanne Vranica, "Leo Burnett Settles Army-Ad Suit," Wall Street Journal (sub req'd), January 7, 2009.

External resources

External articles

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