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It's not often that you find yourself chatting with WPP supremo Sir Martin Sorrell and Barbara Cassani, the woman who masterminded London's Olympic bid (and won, in case you'd forgotten). Like Sir Martin and Ms Cassani, I had been invited to speak at Unilever's annual « workshop ». It's a day of discussion and brainstorming for the company's marketing executives and advertising agencies. I was there to talk about fashion branding, and trend forecasting, and all the things I'm supposed to know about these days.

Sir Martin, Barbara and the other speakers were interesting. But it got more interesting when the Unilever executives got a chance to talk. They were addressing time-shifted TV viewing and the probable death of TV advertising ; not to mention new media like blogs and podcasting. And as far as I could tell, they weren't too sure what to do about it.

That's right : the brightest minds from one of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world got together in a room to debate the future of advertising, and they sounded anxious. They looked like people queuing up for a rollercoaster ride : exhilarated by the prospect, but slightly pale at the same time. At the end of the day, Unilever home care boss Ralph Kugler dared his team to look beyond TV advertising. The alternatives are complex, risky, impossible to measure, and sheer hard work. But if the people who work for Unilever can't figure out how to overcome this challenge, I've no idea who can.


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