Marcel Bleustein was born on August 21, 1906, to a family of Russian-Jewish emigrants in a suburb of Paris. Upon completing elementary school, the self-confessed mauvais élève started selling furniture in his father's business. There the foundations of his business savvy were set as he grew to relish the excitement of a successful sale. His dreams, however, were elsewhere, as he saw a future for himself in advertising. When his father criticized him for wanting to sell "nothing but air" the cocky youngster was quick to respond, "and what makes windmills go round?"
At the age of 20, Bleustein founded Publicis, joining the French words "publicité"(advertising) and "six," his lucky number. He set up a small office in a working-class neighborhood of Paris, later keeping the door of this office as a reminder of his humble beginnings. Seeking out his first clients, he went door to door presenting the benefits of advertising to skeptical listeners. His first breaks came through family friends: le Comptoir Cardinet, Lévitan furniture, Andr'hoes and Brunswick furs. The chance they took with him quickly paid off as their slogans became known all over France.
Soon after, he ambitiously set out to conquer the new media of the time: radio and cinema. He launched his own radio station, for which he invented the first advertising-sponsored programs, and also started selling advertising in cinemas. In 1938, he launched Régie-Presse, expanding into advertising space in newspapers.
World War II put an abrupt end to all professional activity. Fleeing to London, under the assumed name Blanchet, he joined General de Gaulle, and became press officer to General Koenig, the chief commander of the armed Resistance movement.
Returning to Paris after the Liberation, he became Bleustein-Blanchet. His radio station had been destroyed and commercial radio banned in France, but his determination remained resolute. In 1946, faced with the challenge of rebuilding from scratch, he reopened Publicis on the Champs Elysées, welcoming back his former clients. His staff grew from 20 to 200 over the course of 10 years.
In a country that was once mistrustful of the very idea of advertising, Bleustein-Blanchet was a pioneering figure in getting it recognized as a reputable industry. He set out to make ads that were honest and informative, putting the brand in touch with the consumer. In a pioneering move, he established France's first market research department and introduced George Gallup and Ernest Dichter's studies in opinion polling and motivation to advertising.
Bleustein-Blanchet's charisma and integrity, combined with hard work, propelled the company among the top French agencies. In 1954, Publicis won its first major international client, Colgate-Palmolive, followed by Nescafé—which would lead to a long-term relationship with Nestlé. In 1957, the agency moved to the top of the Champs Elysées right in front of the Arc de Triomphe. In 1958, Bleustein-Blanchet opened the first Publicis Drugstore in Paris. Two years later, as one of several philanthropic activities, Bleustein-Blanchet created the Fondation de la Vocation, to help disadvantaged young people.
On September 27, 1972, the Publicis headquarters went up in flames. The next morning, Bleustein-Blanchet went out onto a neighboring balcony to address his employees on the street below, boldly reassuring them that "Publicis will go on"
In 1987, Bleustein-Blanchet handed over the executive management of Publicis to Maurice Lévy. On April 21, 1996, when Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet passed away, the entire advertising profession, in France and in the USA, paid homage to the man considered to be the father of French advertising. His daughter Elisabeth Badinter took over as president of the Supervisory Board and built a genuine partnership with Lévy upon which Publicis Groupe's success developed.