CHANGEMAKERS // Mad Men in Modernity : Rory Sutherland

CHANGEMAKERS // Mad Men in Modernity : Rory Sutherland

CHANGEMAKERS is a weekly series where we explore the world of management and leadership. What is it that makes leaders succeed or fail, respected or hated? Our writers take a good look at the leaders who are making an impact today, whether it be good or bad.

Rory Sutherland’s capricious career in advertising is epitomised by his evolution from “the worst graduate trainee Ogilvy & Mather UK had ever hired” to the acting Vice-Chairman.

Modern mad man and self-appointed ‘advertarian’, Sutherland is renowned for his original thinking, eccentricities and penchant for behavioral economics. Trailblazing the advertising revolution, Sutherland leads by example, employing perspective and data-driven thinking to better frame problems and derive unique consumer truths. 

quote ogilvy The buttress of his multiple TED talks is the assertion that advertising adds value to products through manipulated perceptions. Broken down; perceived value can be considered as equally satisfying as real value – a placebo-like value add – which depends on the information received, as well as the manner and context in which it is presented.

His beliefs are contrary to that which we are taught at business school, with Sutherland suggesting that beginning with theory and then attempting to apply it to reality is inappropriate in a modern context. He proposes learning through practical experimentation instead of fetishizing price; disregarding factors of loyalty, trust and ethics, to avoid ultimately producing a class who operate on the same fixed set of assumptions. 

The excessive dominance of over-rational, mechanistic models of human behavior at the top of large client organisations, which has caused the marketing function to lose status and influence.”

 Rory Sutherland is the original champion of Ogilvy’s 360-degree branding approach, of which he explains using ‘the inventor’s paradox’; the best way to solve a specific problem is often by solving a different, more general problem to the one you have been given to solve. In other words, you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’re focused too narrowly. The 360-degreee approach embraces a unified communication strategy for a myriad of mediums to facilitate a uniquely enduring and dexterous brand.

#ogilvychange, the brainchild of Sutherland, is a now-global practice underpinned by the understanding that people are largely emotional and irrational beings. Supplementary to the gravitas of traditional economic and cognitive science models, Sutherland defines behavioral economics as “an intellectual framework, which allows us to better justify and charge for the many ideas we already generate and help generate new and better ones”.

 Want to read more about his marketing musings? Find an article hereor get your Freakonomics fixor kickstart your auditory enlightenment with this TED Talk. 

Rory Sutherland the CHANGEMAKER

Rory Sutherland’s unconventional creative career in advertising has seen him named as one of modern marketing’s most influential spokesmen, a leading behavioral economist, a champion of forward-thinking technology and an iconoclast with a particularly droll sense of humour.

Sutherland challenges the relevance of the advertising agency by it’s historically defined function; “attempting to change the fortunes of your brand by simply promoting brand attributes may be complete folly”. He believes it doesn’t accommodate the understanding that prices charged to products can be a determinant of ascribed value, meaning that attitudes towards a brand can indeed follow changes in consumer behavior rather than lead it.

Behavioural economics is tipping into vogue and Sutherland is leading the Advertising revolution. By ultimately exploring the science of influence and readjusting our focus to what’s next by posing the question; it works in practice, but does it work in theory?

The ability advertising agencies have to evolve their value perception manipulation techniques using an integrated spectrum of mediums remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, advertising will continue to remain a form of artistry, where new things are made familiar and familiar things are made new – can this be fortified by the application of behavioural economics?


Rory Sutherland recommends the following books to delight your little grey cells:

Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Predictably Irrational – Daniel Ariely

or read his own work:

The Wiki Man – Rory Sutherland

Feature image credit: Ross Kingisland

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