BMO Harris’s Lionheart – Hubert T. Lion

Excerpt from A Vision Greater Than Themselves: The Making of The Bank of Montreal, 1817-2017 by Laurence B. Mussio

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Hubert is a cartoon lion who helped the Harris Bank introduce itself to the world of retail banking in the late 1950s. When the Harris bought the Chicago National Bank in 1960, Hubert’s image helped to establish a warm, friendly image for the Bank. By any measure, Hubert has been a remarkably durable and successful ‘spokeslion’ for the Bank and the most recognizable symbol in Chicago banking, for years vaulting Harris into the leading-bank position in terms of advertising.

Hubert the Lion has a long pedigree. The Harris Trust and Savings Bank began using the lion as its symbol in 1911, but the Harris family association goes back to the bank’s founding in 1882. The cartoon character had several parents. Dr Agha, a New York art consultant, did some layouts that would prove to be the forerunner to Hubert. From this idea, Ben Laitin, Norm Houk, and Dick Weiner of Leo Burnett Company, an advertising agency, developed the cartoon character “Hubert the Harris Lion” in the fall of 1957 for the 1958 advertising campaign. Hubert first appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 26 March 1957. The bankers of the Harris agreed to the name – after some suggestions were considered and discarded (Harris, Leo) – and used the spokeslion for a savings advertising campaign.

Later consideration of a possible name change elicited a memorandum from Hubert himself on 6 February 1958 (on Leo Burnett Company letterhead, however) agreeing to a “face-lift” but resisting any name change. “Hubert is just right for my new role. Aristocratic but not snobbish. Unusual but not bizarre. Faintly amusing but not snicker-making. Dignified but not stuffy. So why can’t I be Hubert, like I was christened … Shucks fellers. Why not just let me be? Hubert that is.”

Hubert was a sensation, commanding widespread attention not only from the public but also from public relations professionals across the United States. He was used in print from 1958 on. He debuted on TV in 1962 with a series of animated twenty-second spots and eventually became one of the most recognizable fictional animals in the United States, alongside Smokey Bear and Tony the Tiger. Hubert also knew how to draw new customers with Hubert-inspired promotions that set records. His popularity continued on television. He was reproduced in ceramic cookie jars, clocks, and the original Hubert doll. If Leo Burnett created Hubert, it was Chicago-area artist Sam Koukios (1929–2009) who standardized Hubert’s look. Koukios was the official Hubert artist for over three decades, called upon for virtually every advertising campaign when Hubert was needed. On Koukios’s death in 2009, Senior Marketing Executive Justine Fedak eulogized him as the artist who “brought so much character” to the lion, ensuring Hubert kept with the times.

Hubert has become one of Chicago’s most recognized and beloved icons. He has also been one of the most successful advertising phenomena in the history of Chicago banking. Hubert has transcended his category to symbolize trust, comfort, and credibility in the Bank’s offerings and expertise. He has also become a cultural phenomenon with whom BMO Harris bankers are proud to be associated.


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