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Artist and Black Advertising Pioneer Emmett McBain, Dead at 77

(Editor’s note: Emmett McBain was not a household name, but his importance for black people, now or previously, in the advertising industry cannot be overstated.

Mr. McBain was co-founder of what became, easily arguable, the most iconic and influential African-American advertising agency of them all, Burrell Advertising, later Burrell Communications Group.

The alumni of Burrell could fill a veritable who’s-who of advertising notables. It served as a training ground for some and a career home for others, but the experience always left a positive, indelible impression. As an alumnus myself, I am appreciative of the opportunity and exposure provided to me during my 10-year stint (1988 – 1998) with the agency .

This past Sunday was Father’s Day and I finally relented to my 8 year-old daughter’s years of requests to visit The World of Coca-Cola museum. As we toured the exhibits, I was able to point with pride to many pieces created by BCG during my tenure with the agency when I worked on the Coca-Cola account. I even saw one Coke ad that I created, which ironically enough, was a salute to fatherhood. It turned out to be a wonderful outing and trip down a lane of pleasant Burrell memories.

I never met Mr. McBain, but I owe him an everlasting debt of gratitude for prompting and inspiring Tom Burrell to take a leap of faith that ultimately carried so many with him.

We at Atlanta Black Star salute the life and continuing legacy of Emmett McBain.  –  Stanley Yorker)

Emmett McBain, a renowned water color artist, and co-founder of what became the largest African-American owned advertising agency in the U.S., died on Tuesday, May 22 at his home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The agency he started in 1971 was Burrell McBain, Inc. and would go on to be known as Burrell Communications Group.

McBain and co-founder, Thomas J. Burrell opened the ad agency in to focus on the African-American consumer, Black families and relationships. In short order, the agency succeeded in its ability to interpret client’s messages and gain the loyalty of black consumers.

“Emmett was key in getting the agency started in the early days,” said Tom Burrell. He was a visual thinker, always had fresh ideas to the approach of marketing, my senior in the business and I looked to him for leadership,” said Burrell adding that McBain left a long standing impression on him. “He said something that really resonated with me which was, ‘there is always a reason to not do something’ and from that moment we worked toward creating an agency.”

Born in 1935, McBain attended Sexton Elementary School and Tilden Technical High School in Chicago and following graduation, studied advertising design. He attended the Ray Vogue Art School, the American Academy of Art, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He later became a designer for Vince Cullers and Associates, an art supervisor at J. Walter Thompson, a creative consultant for Soft Sheen Products, and ultimately the co-founder of Burrell McBain, Inc.

An inventory of visual advertising has been created in McBain’s honor at the University of Illinois at Chicago Library, entitled “Emmett McBain Design Papers.” The collection includes print ads, transparencies of billboards and record album covers ranging in date from 1961 to 2000. The assortment of works also includes the series of ads for Philip Morris, McDonald’s print ads, and others.

In 1974, McBain left Burrell McBain to pursue a career in art and independent design in Chicago’s Hyde Park community, where he has since lived.

“Emmett was a pioneer in the advertising industry and a gifted artist,” said McGhee Williams Osse, Co-CEO of Burrell Communications Group. “To know him was to be intrigued and always fascinated by his wit, talent and very interesting perspectives about culture, life, and world affairs.”

McBain is survived by 8 children, 8 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. A memorial is being planned to take place at the DuSable Museum, 740 East 56th Place, Chicago on Saturday, June 30th, at 2 pm.

Source: Target Market News

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