Whether you believe it or not, Google’s (in)famous motto, “Don’t be evil,” is one of the most unambiguous value statements by a major company. Leo Burnett, the legendary ad executive and founder of an eponymous agency, delivered a similarly no-nonsense (if less succinct) summary of his company’s values in 1967, in a speech called “When to take my name off the door.” Now a Brazilian design studio called Lobo has created an animated tribute to Burnett’s speech, which should serve as inspiration for anyone tempted by the siren song of giving less than 100% on every project:
The video is fittingly retro, full of modish asymmetrical 2-D animation and a flickering film-in-projector feel that artfully matches the not-quite-pristine audio quality of Burnett’s speech. It’s hard not to want to swirl a tumbler of scotch as you watch the video, listening to old man Leo’s paternal voice syncopate along with clinking ice cubes. When should they take his name off the door? “When you spend more time trying to make money and less time making advertising… when you begin to compromise your integrity… when you lose your humility and become big shot wisenheimers too big for your boots.” What’s not to love in that? It’s like Mad Men without the howling ennui.
But then Burnett actually does bring in a bit of ennui, when he says his agency must never “lose your respect for the lonely man… behind his typewriter, or drawing board, or camera, or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils or working all night on a media plan.” This is the unglamorous side of advertising work, or any kind of creative labor: the loneliness of not being sure if your talents match your vision for what is necessary, but doing the work anyway. Ira Glass calls this “the gap.” Having great ideas is the easy part. Making them great is what’s hard. Ceasing to appreciate that gap, and the effort it takes to close it, every day is what makes creativity curdle into shilling, pandering, and time-clock punching. That’s what Burnett said he couldn’t abide, and anyone who wants to create a legacy like his would do well not to abide it either.