Unilever Ex-Chairman Censures Online Infatuation

17 November 2006

LONDON: Niall Fitzgerald, former chairman/ceo of Unilever and these days chairman of Reuters, on Wednesday rang a long-overdue alarm bell warning of the current infatuation with online media.

A Daniel in the Internet Advertising Bureau's lions den, Fitzgerald urged attendees at the IAB's Engage 2006 conference not to ignore accumulated experience.

"The danger we face is that our industry has been seduced by the possibilities of a technology. As an industry it is quite desirable that we think before we act.

"I have learnt that to get the best out of the new we should not forget what came before. Whatever the platform, brains are what count, great ideas count.

"Forgettable ads online are the same as forgettable ads on TV. The skills that make the great ads of the past are the ones that will make the great ads of the future. Technology does not make better ads for us."

While acknowledging that the web offers exciting opportunities, Fitzgerald reminded delegates that it is "just another means of persuasion".

At the heart of good advertising, he argued, lies creativity and the "big idea". Although the internet has restored the intimate connection with consumers "eroded" by the years, advertisers risk "dismissing everything learnt in the past".

He continued: "No amount of technology can replace the great products or services at the heart of great brands. It's more important than ever for brands to be clearly positioned."

Marketers, he said, should embrace the return of "conversation" with consumers facilitated by the internet and not be afraid of losing complete control. "We fool ourselves if we think advertising alone builds brands. Its people that build brands."

Or as American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes phrased an older argument: "It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen."

Data sourced from mad.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff