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Billo Summit 2021 Keynote Talk by Rory Sutherland

Billo Summit 2021 Keynote Talk by Rory Sutherland
Joe Tobin
Billo Summit 2021 Keynote Talk by Rory Sutherland
Joe Tobin

After bouncing around tech start-ups and university literature programs, Joe has finally settled down as Billo’s Head of Content. Joe now spends his days writing ads about ads, teaching clients how to craft killer content, and combing through our web copy with a bold red Sharpie.


Rory Sutherland is the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy. Currently, he works with a consulting practice of psychology graduates who look for ‘unseen opportunities’ in consumer behavior.

Before founding Ogilvy Change, Rory was a copywriter and creative director at Ogilvy for over 20 years, joining as a graduate trainee in 1988. He has variously been President of the IPA, Chair of the Judges for the Direct Jury at Cannes, and has spoken at TED Global.

Rory writes regular columns for the Spectator, Market Leader, and Impact and occasional pieces for Wired.

He is the author of two books: The Wiki Man, available on Amazon (at prices between £2 and £2,300, depending on whether the algorithm is having a bad day); and the best-selling Alchemy, The Surprising Power of Ideas which Don’t Make Sense, published in the UK and US in May 2019.

At Billo Summit 2021, Rory Sutherland shared his insights on the current state of advertising and the future of this industry.

Exploration Over Exploitation?

What is more critical in modern marketing – exploration or exploitation? In unique times of significant disruption, we must rely more on exploration than exploitation. Creative needs to take a front seat in marketing as opposed to targeting. Testing creativity is the key to successful marketing.

Digital media is tailor-made for exploration, but it’s being used mostly for exploitation. We are spending too much time on optimization rather than innovation, such as trying different creatives. The ratio of exploration to exploitation has to change in favor of exploration. Such changes happened, particularly in 2021 – 2022, as we are going through a global crisis that will have lasting effects on human behavior and consumption.

The past is not as relevant now as it used to be. Whenever there is a major disruption like this, the need to explore goes up dramatically. When there is a significant disruption, what worked last year may not work this year.

Existing Customer vs. Uninterested Customer

If your strategy is to offer your product at a discounted rate, it will always work. However, those conversions aren’t that valuable compared to getting someone who wasn’t going to buy your product at all to purchase at full price.

Performance marketing makes people focus on the people close to making a purchase and lay claim to the sales that result. This is not nearly as valuable to a business as getting a new client purchase. Unfortunately, it is easier to measure communications that are closer to purchase than farther away.

Contrasting Creatives Executions

People are obsessed with testing targeting, which is odd because the most determinant of an advertisement is creative, not targeting. Once you’ve got the targeting to a certain level, most gains come from the creative.

You should be able to test the efficacy of your messaging quite easily. We don’t test creative because we don’t know how to create a matrix to test creative approaches. However, behavioral sciences should give you an idea of what will work in creative practices.

Different executions should be tested often. Remember that things that are economically the same can be highly diverse in human emotional reactions – this makes it essential to test different executions to see which invokes the best response.

When you try out creativity, it isn’t enough to test the facts. You have to test emotional response, which is, facts times context. If you frame something differently, you give it a completely different meaning and emotional response. It’s always been done, for example, reframing high cost to a product benefit.

Key Takeaway

The point of marketing is to get someone who wasn’t going to buy your product at full price. This can be achieved by focusing on testing creative executions instead of focusing solely on the target market. Exploring new creative executions is vital to success as the world of marketing changes.

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