Rory Sutherland

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Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy UK

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One of the most respected creative thinkers in the ad industry, Ogilvy’s Vice-Chairman once suggested to Microsoft that they enable people to share office documents on the internet. The idea was dismissed but Rory has gone on to build a career out of the counter-intuitive and the original. With a sharp wit he examines what influences our choices and why irrational thinking tends to win out.


Rory Sutherland is the Vice-Chairman at media and ad company Ogilvy UK. Combining creative thinking with a passion for behavioural science he examines why people think, buy, vote or act the way they do, what influences them, and why they're so frequently irrational in their choices.

After a spell teaching at a grammar school (and finding his colleagues far more challenging than the pupils), Rory applied to a number of advertising and marketing agencies and was offered a planning role by Ogilvy & Mather. He was asked to leave the Planning Department and moved to the Creative Department instead as a junior copywriter. He worked on accounts including American Express, Royal Mail, and the relatively obscure software company Microsoft.

Despite approaching Microsoft with the idea of a system whereby people could share Office documents over the nascent internet and being roundly rejected, Rory went on to help found OgilvyOne, the group’s dedicated digital and direct agency. He remains an advocate of so-called ‘360 Degree Branding’ ensuring brands have a coherent, joined-up presence in all relevant media areas.

Rory was appointed Head of Copy, and shortly afterwards Creative Director of Ogilvy. He has also served as the president of the Institute of Practioners in Advertising (IPA) - the first ‘creative’ to do so. Ogilvy is now part of the massive WPP ad and media group and count Ford, Unilever, IBM, American Express, BP, and British Airways amongst their top accounts.

With characteristic wit and erudition Rory looks at the successes, the failures and the outright bizarre from the ad world. He analyses what branding means, what creativity is, and the value of persuasion over compulsion. In particular he looks at behaviours - as individuals and groups, consumers and employees - and how we often make the wrong decisions, or the decisions others want us to make. He considers how the potato was rebranded by Friedrich the Great of Prussia, the mysteries behind advertising, why the media is like food and why cheap, imaginative answers can often be better than expensive ones. He covers many of these idea in his book, Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense, examining the increasing role of the irrational in decision making.

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Agent Recommendation

As Creative Director of one the most successful ad agencies in the world, Rory wouldn't be out of place in a modern day version of Mad Men. You'll warm to him straight away. He overturns your assumptions, lets you in on branding secrets, and shows how human behaviour isn’t always logical – wrapping it all up with an easy humour and bundles of charm. You’ll come away buzzing with insights and ideas, and a knowing smile. JLA Agent Scarlett Atherton

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