Rory Sutherland: The Power of Unconventional Thinking

by | Jul 15, 2020

Rory is the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy. He was previously a Creative Director and Copywriter, whose Ted Talks have had over 6.5 million views. His book, Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don’t Make Sense, is all about unconventional thinking in modern business.

The book is described by Rory as an ‘extraordinarily extreme pro-marketing viewpoint which simply says that the standard narrative driven by economics is that value is created in the factory and therefore the only way you can create value is by producing more stuff or producing the stuff cheaper. My argument is value is created in the head. It can be created by changing the context, changing the expectation of the consumer’.

Rory uses the example of an airport scenario. ‘Normally when you’re at the airport and you get a bus to take you to the terminal, you regard it as the poor man’s airbridge. But weirdly when the pilot says “the bad news is we won’t be able to get you an airbridge because there is a plan blocking us in, but good news is, the bus will take you all of the way to passport control”, suddenly your attention is drawn to the journey on foot you now no longer have to make. The bus is then a mode of convenience.’

‘The human brain derives value from context and meaning as opposed to objective reality. Advertising and marketing, therefore, are not about making profit, but adding value in the eyes of the consumer.’

When asked how hard it is to educate and work with companies who are extremely profit based, Rory suggests that ‘this is the hard part; not many companies have budgets for a problem they didn’t know they had’.

‘But, one of the great things about behavioural science is that you don’t need a big budget before you can have a big effect. What are your clients or consumers assuming about your agency that is not true and is worth clarifying earlier? From a finance perspective, if you can say to a client, “okay this will cost you £25,000 to test, but if it works it will make you £9 million annually, the deal isn’t too hard to seal.’

When asked how value-based pricing works in a situation where the client has made £20mil from a suggestion made, Rory explains that the agreement tends to be based on spending the same amount on our services again, plus x%.’

Rory suggests that having a few people in an organisation whose job roles are not tightly defined can be useful in generating quality and reinventing ideas.