By Kendya Goodman, Intern at Ogilvy Change

If you’ve ever wondered who or what a Choice Architect is, you’re not alone. It’s a job title held by the bulk of the Ogilvy Change team but simultaneously one that most of us would struggle to define. However unbeknownst to the majority of us, choice architecture is constantly influencing our choices and motivations in myriad ways – many times the choices that are presented to you are manipulated in such a way that really choice is removed.

Such was the central tenet of Ogilvy & Mather Group UK's Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland’s TEDx Brighton talk. In his own words “we can make people wealthier by helping them make better decisions” as opposed to giving them more options. Take the M20 turn-off, Rory’s comical recollections of this case of shoddy choice architecture struck a chord with an audience whose attention he certainly had no trouble holding. With the aid of Google Street-view screenshots, he highlighted the fact that by the time you could see the sign signalling the turn-off, it was too late to cross over into the correct lane. Case in point – your selection of choices is poor and as a result you are less well-off. The audience was sold. 

Rory’s ingredient x that hooked the audience was his capacity to notice and vocalise what we all subconsciously think. As he said himself “we don’t notice when choice architecture is bad,” yet we all feel its negative consequences – it takes a Rory to bring it to the forefront of our minds. It is these subconscious biases that we live for in Ogilvy Change – how and what is influencing the part of our brain that evolved to make decisions at the drop of a hat?

As humans we are imperfect – we do not always make the right choice but we’ve evolved to make the most right choice most of the time. What Rory made us consider was the fact that there is a human on either side of the choice process – to miss the turn-off consistently was not the fault of Rory’s cognitive processes but those of the people who made the sign. It begs the question, are we in advertising always presenting choices to people in an effective way, and in a way that makes them well-off?

He presented us 4 ideas to alter societal failings of choice architecture that elicited a collective feeling of wonder and agreement – such simple solutions to issues both complex and simple purely through small adjustments in choice. His ideas, in his words, were as follows:

  1. Mandate that people can choose between a pay-rise and more holiday
  2. An extra bank-holiday once a year for people to sort their financial shit out
  3. 25% of University places reserved for over 30s
  4. Ban all cookery programmes for two years

Each taking an element of behavioural psychology to provide people with better choices and thus ultimately make them better off. Ultimately Rory’s talk was his usual blend of insightful, humorous and thought-provoking, setting a benchmark for a day of high calibre talks (and perhaps the benchmark for colourful language). It made a room of thinkers turn their attention to the mechanisms working behind the scenes to influence the choices they make every day.

Want to know more about TEDTalks? Find out why O&M London's Kevin Chesters says the world still needs TED here.