That’s not a mistake, it’s my attempt to graphically warn you that this podcast ends abruptly.
The idea was that I’d grill Rory on some of the issues facing our business today.
He is easily one of the most thoughtful, smartest guys in our business, just check out some of his quotes below if you don’t believe me.

But rather than ask softball questions that were too broad, I thought it’d be more interesting to make it binary.
Forcing a result.
I framed the questions in terms of hiring for a new agency.
For example, would it be better that people felt relaxed and comfortable in the office or fearful? Should we prioritise diversity over ability? Would misfits be more valuable in developing work than the well-adjusted.
That was the plan anyway.
But, firstly, I wasn’t at Wave, I was on away territory (Sea Container’s House) so I didn’t have control over the tech and interruptions.
Secondly, I asked a warm up question to get the ball rolling – ‘What is Advertising?’.
I’d imagined three, four, maybe even five minutes before we got to the interview?

Fearing we wouldn’t get to any of the pre-prepared questions, we abandoned it after 45 minutes.
The upside is that it lead us down some interesting avenues, the downside was that you’ll hear a record scratch type ending as a lady kicks us both out of our room.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed recording it, hope you enjoy listening to it.



Some of my favourite Rory quotes:


“Military strategy is in some ways very much like marketing – you can’t be conventionally logical as a military strategist, because the enemy will be able to predict what you are going to do.”


“A flower is a weed with an advertising budget.”


“It doesn’t pay to be logical if everyone else is being logical.”

”Dare to be trivial.”


“Google understood that if you’re just a search engine, people assume you’re a very, very good search engine.”


“Once you have a very, very large budget, you actually look for expensive things to spend it on.”


“If you had retroactively applied the rules of scientific rationalism to all of the major scientific discoveries of the past 500 years you would have invalidated most of them. Perhaps most (penicillin, the X-Ray, the microwave, Aspirin, radio, Archimedes in the bath) were the product of “inspired opportunism”.
As he once put it: “a methodology was an ideology Galileo could not afford.”


“The human mind does not run on logic any more than a horse runs on petrol.”


“It’s important to remember that big data all comes from the same place – the past. A new campaigning style, a single rogue variable or a ‘black swan’ event can throw the most perfectly calibrated model into chaos.”


“Henry Ford’s reaction to a consultant who questioned why he paid $50,000 a year to someone who spent most of his time with his feet on his desk. ‘Because a few years ago that man came up with something that saved me $2,000,000’ he replied. ‘And when he had that idea his feet were exactly where they are now.”


“It is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative.
The fatal issue is that logic always gets you to exactly the same place as your competitors.”


“The problem with logic is that it kills magic.”


“To put a value on the digital world by only tallying the money that changes hands is a little like trying to place a value on sex by simply measuring the amount spent on prostitution.”


“I think the first role of marketing is to make a decision easy to make.
And that means firstly clarity in terms of choice, and secondly it means lack of anxiety.”


“Solving problems using rationality is like playing golf with only one club.”


“A good guess that stands up to observation is still science. So is a lucky accident.”


“What the spreadsheet has done is to create in organisations and governments an over-reliance on numbers (by no means always meaningful or even accurate) with result that often spurious numerical targets, metrics or values invariably override any conflicting human judgement.
This has given rise to what a colleague of mine, Anthony Tasgal, calls ‘The Arithmocracy’: a powerful left-brained administrative caste which attaches importance only to things which can be expressed in  numerical terms or on a chart.”


“So the first role of marketing is not actually getting preference, it’s not actually getting someone to prefer a Philips TV, it’s getting someone non-anxious about buying a Philips.”


“No big business idea makes sense at first.
Imagine proposing the following ideas to a group of sceptical investors:

‘What people want is a really cool vacuum cleaner.’ (Dyson)

‘. . . and the best part of all this is that people will write the entire thing for free!’ (Wikipedia)

‘. . . and so I confidently predict that the great enduring fashion of the next century will be a coarse, uncomfortable fabric which fades unpleasantly and which takes ages to dry. To date, it has been largely popular with indigent labourers.’ (Jeans)

‘. . . and people will be forced to choose between three or four items.’ (McDonald’s)

‘And, best of all, the drink has a taste which consumers say they hate.’ (Red Bull)

‘. . . and just watch as perfectly sane people pay $5 for a drink they can make at home for a few pence.’ (Starbucks)”


“Remember, if you never do anything differently, you’ll reduce your chances of enjoying lucky accidents.”


“It is perfectly possible to be both rational and wrong.”


“There is one place in the industry that could use more fear.
In the way we sell ourselves.
I met someone from the IT industry who was asked to sit in on several ad agency presentations.
He thought they were brilliant.
The slides, the stagecraft, the quality of argumentation was higher than anything he’d seen in his industry.
‘But you ad guys all made one terrible mistake.’
‘What was that?’
‘You sold positives.’
In IT, he said, only in the direst cases would you ever sell a solution by detailing the benefits.
‘We sell on fear. If you don’t buy this solution, the following bad things will happen.’
I’ve never seen an agency argue it’s case this way.
By selling the positives we frame advertising as an ‘optional extra’.
It isn’t.”


“Test counterintuitive things only because no one else will.”


“The ethnographer Tricia Wang suggested in her TEDxCambridge talk that the quantification bias created by big data led to the near death of Nokia as a handset manufacturer.
All their data suggested that people would only spend a certain proportion of their salary on a phone handset, so the market for smartphones in the developing world would be correspondingly small.
Wang noticed that, once people saw a smartphone, their readiness to spend on a handset soared.
Her findings were ignored as she had ‘too few data points’.
However, in reality, all valuable information starts with very little data – the lookout on the Titanic only had one data point…’Iceberg ahead’, but it was more important than any huge survey on iceberg frequency.”


If you liked those words, you’ll find thousands more just like them in here… 

7 responses to PODCAST: RORY SUTHERLA…

  1. Derek payne says:

    ‘An ad a day keeps the sack away.’ At TBWA, it was supposedly John Knight who answered ‘I’ve done two ads today, can I ‘ave tomorrow off?’

  2. Andy says:

    The other interview at the end is pretty good too! Who is that with?

  3. Phil Cockrell says:

    Fantastic Dave, thanks. I could listen to this man all day. Talks a lot of sense.

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