Rory Sutherland is the vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather. He’s given 3 TED talks over the years that are full of great perspective and marketing wisdom:
- Life lessons from an ad man  “Advertising adds value to a product by changing our perception, rather than the product itself. Rory Sutherland makes the daring assertion that a change in perceived value can be just as satisfying as what we consider “real” value.”
- Sweat The Small Stuff  “It may seem that big problems require big solutions, but ad man Rory Sutherland says many flashy, expensive fixes are just obscuring better, simpler answers. To illustrate, he uses behavioral economics and hilarious examples.”
- “Perspective is everything  “The circumstances of our lives may matter less than how we see them, says Rory Sutherland. At TEDxAthens, he makes a compelling case for how reframing is the key to happiness.”
What does Rory Sutherland know that the rest of us don’t, that has allowed him to keep Ogilvy so successful? We watched all his videos, and here’s what we learnt.
A. Our perception is ‘leaky’.
We can’t tell the difference between the quality of the food and the environment in which we consume it.
In his talk “Perspective is everything“, Rory illustrates how human perceptions are influenced by seemingly-related things. For example,
1. We feel our car drives better after a car wash.
Doesn’t your car feel like it drives better after you’ve went for a nice car wash?
Unless some secret improvements are being done to your car while you’re not looking, it’s unlikely that the car actually drives better.
2. Branded painkillers are literally more effective, because we perceive them to be.
Similarly, branded painkillers have been reported to be more effective than non-branded ones.
This works in many ways like a placebo; our experiences are influenced by our expectations.
3. If French music is played while you’re wine-shopping, you’re likelier to buy French wine.
A study published in Nature showed that customers in a supermarket bought more French wine when French music was played.
Only 1 out of 44 interviewed customers recognized that the music influenced their choice.
Meanwhile, 86% of the customers did not think the music would affect their choice. But it did.
B. People like specialists more.
People believe something that only does one thing is better at that thing than something that does that thing and something else. – Rory Sutherland
4. Google won by hyper-focusing on being a very good search engine– and nothing else.
According to Rory, Google’s competitors at the time were trying to provide all sorts of information: weather, news, sports, etc.
But Google realized that if they were just a search engine, people would assume that they’re very good at it.
Someone who has spent all their time perfecting one thing would probably be better than one who divides his time between various pursuits.
C. Our “real value” vs “dubious value” model of reality is completely false.
In Life lessons from an ad man, Rory talks about how we tend to pride engineering products much more than the marketing behind selling it.
Marketing is, oftentimes, seen as creating a form of “fake” value; value that isn’t really there.
But the truth is, all value is perceived value.
5. Improving the Eurostar for a fraction of the cost – Don’t make it faster, make people enjoy the slower ride more!
Around 15 years ago, a bunch of engineers were asked to improve the journey for the Eurostar.
They spent six billion pounds shortening the travel time from London to Paris by 40 minutes.
Rory’s suggestion was to install free Wi-Fi in the trains for about 0.01% of the cost.
Alternatively, they could’ve hired all of the world’s top supermodels and pay them to hand out free Chateau Petrus for the entire duration of the journey.
These suggestions would not only have made the journey far more enjoyable; it would have saved them a whole lot of money!
Intangible rewards like enjoyment might not be as measurable or visible, but they are just as important.
6. Imagine a restaurant that serves Michelin-starred food, but the restaurant smells of sewage and there’s human feces on the floor.
We can never evaluate the quality of the food independent of our knowledge that the restaurant is filthy– again, perception is leaky.
In this scenario, improving the quality of the food further would have far lesser value than cleaning up the restaurant.
Actually, cleaning up the restaurant and removing the smell should be the absolute top priority.
Once again, this reminds us that everything depends on the context.
D. Changing the frame of reference dramatically changes the actual value of something.
Once we acknowledge that all value is a matter of perception, we can move on to the interesting question:
How do we change the way customers view our brand/products?
7. Fredrick the Great tricked everyone into eating potatoes by rebranding it as ‘exclusive to the Royals’.
Back in the 18th century, Fredrick the Great was having trouble getting people to eat potatoes.
So he rebranded it as a royal vegetable.
He made it exclusive to the royal family, and employed guards to protect his potato garden.
Before long, people started growing potatoes in secret, and everyone was eating them.
Fredrick understood this: if something was worth guarding, it was worth stealing.
8. Atatürk “banned” the wearing of veils by mandating that prostitutes wear them.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, first president of Turkey, wanted to modernize the Turkish people’s dressing.
He wanted people to stop wearing the veil, but knew that a ban would result in strong resistance.
So he tried a softer approach, which was to make it compulsory for prostitutes to wear the veil.
People soon stopped wearing it.
9. Status through significance – Cast iron jewelry became more valuable in Prussia than gold or silver.
In the early 19th century, wealthy Prussians contributed all their jewelry to help in the war against the French.
They were compensated with replica jewelry made from cast iron.
From then on, cast iron jewlery became a symbol or great sacrifice; more valuable than gold or silver.
E. Look for small changes that can solve huge problems.
We constantly have this misconception that big problems can only be solved by big, expensive solutions.
But when we recognize that problems are often just as much a matter of perception as they are technical, we can often solve them by changing perceptions.
10. Scotland’s Speeding Smileys: Speed signs with smiley/sad faces are twice as effective as speed cameras
In Scotland, speed signs that show a smiley or frowning face act as an emotional trigger to influence drivers’ behavior.
We probably won’t think much of the faces consciously, but as social creatures we’re likely to react to the social feedback.
This is much more persuasive than the fear of getting caught on a speed camera.
And, at 10% the cost of a speed camera, much cheaper too.
11. People don’t visit online banking sites because seeing your bank balance is depressing
Why don’t people use more online banking?
According to Rory, it’s because their bank balance is shown the moment they log in.
And people hate seeing that.
What’s the simple, cost-free solution?
Make the display of bank balance optional instead.
12. Lydmar Hotel in Stockholm – Make your customers’ hotel stay enjoyable by letting them choose their own elevator music
Instead of spending a lot of money on interior decorations, why not take inspiration from the Lydmar Hotel in Stockholm?
In their elevators, the buttons at the side don’t represent the individual floors.
Instead, they allow you to choose the genre of elevator music you’d like.
Customers won’t really expect this, so it’s more likely to stick.
13. Korean Traffic Lights – People tolerate longer waiting times if they know how long they’re waiting for
In “Perspective is everything“, Rory brings up another great example: countdown timers for red traffic lights in Korea.
These nifty countdown timers have actually been proven to reduce the number of accidents.
Similarly, display boards in several train stations show the waiting time before the next train arrives.
The uncertainty aspect of waiting is one of the things that irritates people the most.
A lot of us wouldn’t mind waiting longer, provided we know how exactly long that’d be.
Conclusion: Perspective is everything.
…once you reach a basic level of wealth
The whole point of business is to create value by solving problems for customers.
Rory’s killer insight is that you don’t always need to solve difficult technical challenges with big, expensive technical solutions.
You just need to see things from a different, more lateral point of view.
Once you have acknowledged the importance of customer perception in your brand strategy, it’s time to learn how to put that to good use.
Want to learn more about influencing perceptions?
Check out our post on Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Influence, with over 60 real-life examples of how to make your customers love you!