Outgoing Unilever chief Niall FitzGerald has warned industry leaders never to underestimate the role consumers play in building brands.
And he urged his audience to learn from his occasional mistake of compromising on product quality.
Delivering his final speech as president of The Advertising Association, FitzGerald told delegates at the annual luncheon in London: “We fool
ourselves if we claim that advertising alone builds brands.
“We know perfectly well that it’s people who create brands - with or without advertising.
“People were creating brands long before there were brand managers or advertising agencies or professors of marketing. We human beings create brands in our heads because we need to make choices and we delight in forming preferences. Brands allow us to return safely to what we’ve tried and liked and they allow us never to make the same mistake twice.”
And he warned: “The fact that brands are brought to life by people means that brands can also be put to death by people. If a brand cheats, if a brand presents a promise that turns out to be an empty one, if a brand asks for our trust and then betrays it, that brand may never be forgiven.”
FitzGerald, who leaves Unilever in September after 37 years’ service to become chairman of Reuters, said that on the occasions he and Unilever had broken that trust they had soon been found out.
“Every time that I’ve been complicit in taking a little bit of bleach out of Domestos, or failing to put a little more beef into Birds Eye beef in gravy - it’s because someone’s persuaded me that it’s insignificant and that no one will tell the difference.
“But every time, of course, it isn’t and every time they do.”
Simon Mowbray