Ogilvy UK’s Vice Chairman, Rory Sutherland, took to the stage at Ad Week Europe this afternoon, the annual event bringing together unique media, marketing, brand, technology and broader industry communities from throughout Europe. During the week, discussion will cover key business trends, issues, and conversations that help to shape today’s global industry.

Covering topics as broad as honest signaling, the McNamara fallacy and diversity, Rory called for advertisers and marketers to be braver as the industry continues to grow.

Key highlights from his session include:

Honest Signaling

Rory’s first point touched on the fact that the best communication has honesty at its heart.

Beyond the message, there are some interesting ways in which humans detect honesty in communication. Largely the expense and the fact it’s in a public space both signal to the human brain that this information can be trusted. 

As marketers, a huge amount of advertising pays off if it is honest, but this is lost if it is not. In a digital world, it’s important we don’t forget about the power of authenticity and brand building advertising.

Fight McNamara Marketing

Rory believes a large part of marketing has become, as he calls it, “McNamara Marketing”. The McNamara fallacy involves making a decision based solely on quantitative observations or metrics while ignoring all others. For Rory, “In business if we pursue what’s measurable rather than what’s important, this can be very dangerous”.

Of course, in a world of KPIs where when we pursue the measurable it increases the chance of a promotion, we are less likely to choose to explore what’s important. It’s only natural for us to choose the sensible, measurable road. Yet, for Rory, things become interesting when you explore problems that arise when “sensible” runs out of road.

He says “advertising people are good at solving problems where the obvious answer is appealing, but wrong”. This is where Rory believes our focus should lie.

A word on diversity

Rory also shared his advice for achieving greater diversity in the workplace: hire in groups.

In behavioural science terms, several people hiring one person will recruit differently than if one person hires several people at once.

When we do things in batches we naturally get more of a diverse mix. For example, when two people are deciding to buy a home together, they're likely to land on an average home. However, when faced with the decision of buying several homes, natually the selection becomes more diverse. It's much less likely they'll buy three homes beside one another on the same street. They are more likely to buy a home in London, a home in the English countryside and a home in the South of France for example.

The same goes for hiring diverse talent.

Be brave

Rory encouraged marketers to “test counterintuitive things, because your competitors won’t”.

For Rory, this means acting like ‘good scientists’. When we notice an anomaly or “something a little strange” instead of ignoring it, as marketers we should be exploring it.  

Rory called for marketers to test the things that don’t make sense. One small task we can all do is to make a list of of the things that are really weird, from any area of life, and try to explain them. You might surprise yourself.