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Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet: Advertising in His DNA

A self-taught French advertising pioneer, in a country that was suspicious of advertising at the time, he founded Publicis, now the world's third largest communications group.

 

Conquering the media

Born on 21 August 1906 into a family of Russian Jewish emigrants, Marcel Bleustein grew up in Montmartre, left school at the age of 14 with a school certificate, and began working in his father's furniture shop. In 1926, he started his own advertising agency, Publicis - a compression of the words "advertising" and "six", his lucky number - in a small studio on rue Montmartre. In search of clients, he went door-to-door and extolled the benefits of advertising. Ambitious to conquer the media of the time, he bought a radio station, called it Radio-Cité, making it the largest private station of the inter-war period, and broadcasting the first programs financed by advertisers. He also sold advertising in cinemas and set up Régie-Presse, which specialized in advertising space for newspapers. At the age of 30, he became a millionaire.

"If you wait for things to change, they will change without you."

The inventor of modern advertising

After the German invasion of May 1940, he fled to England and joined the Free French Forces as an intelligence agent under the pseudonym of "Blanchet." Captured, he escaped and joined the Resistance. Back in Paris after the Liberation, Bleustein-Blanchet started from scratch. In 1946, he reopened Publicis on the Champs-Elysées and reengaged his former clients and staff. In 1954, the company won its first major international contracts with Colgate-Palmolive and then Nescafé. In 1957, it moved opposite the Arc de Triomphe and developed a subsidiary (Publicis Corp) in New York. Bleustein-Blanchet was the forerunner of corporate communication in France and created an "Industrial Information" department dedicated to advertising, from the product to the organization. Inspired by Gallup, the inventor of surveys, he also introduced opinion and motivation surveys to advertising. In 1958, he opened the first Publicis Drugstore in Paris. 

 

A worldwide legacy

In 1959, he created the Fondation de la Vocation, to help young French people aged 18 to 30 who were underprivileged and did not have the means to pursue their dreams and vocation, an idea born of his time in captivity. In its 60 years of existence, the philanthropic organization has awarded more than 1,600 grants. In 1987, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet handed over the management of Publicis to Maurice Lévy. He went to chair the group's management board for 30 years. The founder died on 11 April 1996 in Paris. He left behind an advertising and communication giant now valued at $7 billion, with 80,000 employees in 100 countries. Elisabeth Badinter, his daughter, a writer, philosopher and feminist, took over as head of its supervisory board, then handed over the position to Lévy in May 2017, who was replaced by Arthur Sadoun.