Leo Olson taught advertising in the Journalism Department at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois during the 1970s and 80s. Although Leo passed away in 1989, he left behind a lasting legacy to thousands of J-students who passed through the doors of Cole and Reavis Halls.
Through stories and instruction, Leo instilled in students the fundamental principles of what made good advertising. I hope there are still some grads around who shared some time with Leo, and remember him fondly.
Prior to joining NIU, Leo was the Communications Director for DeKalb Genetics. In his soft and melodic tone, Leo would explain that the success of an advertising campaign rested on four simple principles:
1) Tell them
2) Tell them again
3) Tell them one more time
4) When you are done telling them one more time, tell them again
My memory is foggy but he probably added #5 and #6 - you can guess what those principles would be.
While I obviously did not know Leo during his DeKalb Genetics time, I imagine him as one of the original Mad Men. Not the Madison Avenue type, rather the “country road” version.
DeKalb Genetics (now part of Monsanto) was a seed company that produced hybrid corn seeds sold to farmers not just in the Midwest, but also around the world. Its winged ear of corn logo was a mainstay in almost every dorm room and apartment on NIU’s campus.
Most of all though, the DeKalb logo appeared on stakes at the ends of rows of corn wherever those seeds were planted.
The logo, according to Leo, dated back to the Great Depression. DeKalb developed a new hybrid seed at the time, and the logo communicated to farmers that this new seed was going to “lift” them out of the bad economic times.
Driving out to California after graduation with a friend, I can remember driving through Iowa and Nebraska on flat country roads, seeing that logo, again, again, and then again.
Farmers from faraway countries probably don’t know where or what the north-central part of Illinois looks like, but they know DeKalb seeds because they had been told again, again and then again.
Leo also talked about the famed Burma-Shave sign campaign that began in the 1920s. The Burma-Shave shaving cream company staked out roadside signs with catchy sayings, always ending with Burma-Shave as the last sign. There were hundreds of phrases over the years, but they all ended with Burma-Shave:
Now can snore
Six minutes more
The signs are long gone, but everyone who drove cross-country roads before the advent of the interstate highway system knew Burma-Shave. They were reminded again, and again and then once again.
Leo’s homespun teaching dates back almost 90 years, but still rings true, especially when it comes to trade show and event marketing.
Share this simple concept with your marketing and advertising colleagues. Feel free to tell it again, and again, and again. And when you are done telling it again, tell it one more time. Leo would have liked that.