Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Rory Sutherland: Why marketing is critical in today’s pandemic world

Rory Sutherland: Why marketing is critical in today’s pandemic world

The Covid-19 pandemic has elevated marketing to being a business-critical function – and marketers must step up to the plate, according to Rory Sutherland.

 “Suddenly almost every business question is a behavioural question,” the Ogilvy UK vice chairman said. “It is no longer ‘How do we hedge on aviation fuel,’ it’s ‘How the hell do we get people back on planes?’. So the importance of marketing is enormously high and we should step up to the plate.”

Sutherland was answering questions at the end of day four of  The 99//Club Digital Festival, having given a Cribs-style tour of his house and home working set-up. His was the only presentation not to be limited to a 99-second ‘manifesto’ during the week-long festival.

Instead, he was invited to share his views on, and experiences of, home working both before and during the pandemic.

Deranged under normal circumstances

“What we’ve discovered during the common lockdown is a completely different way of working. Now, even massive flexible working advocates like me would ever in our wildest moments proposed that the best way to work remotely would be for everybody to go home and never to meet anybody physically.

“That would be deranged under normal circumstances, at least, but having been forced to conduct this massive global simultaneous experiment, we’ve probably been significantly surprised by how well it’s gone for some people, some of the time.”

He rued that it had taken a massive pandemic to try to do something different and called it a “terrible reflection” on the extent to which management had scrutinised their own activities in the past.

Between compulsion and persuasion

Sutherland was more scathing still about governments. “One of the questions we’ve got to ask is what is the best combination in government intervention between compulsion and persuasion, because it looks as if persuasion, actually did probably the greater part of the work,” he said, asking what would have happened had the virus originated in Sweden, the only country not adopting the most extreme behaviours of others for fear of being blamed for incremental deaths.

“There is a huge amount of risk aversion and defensive decision making, which I think covers government behaviour right across the world,” concluded Sutherland.

The week-long invite-only festival is a collaboration between MAD//Fest and New Digital Age, and follows a successful 99 Club event held earlier this year before lockdown. Over the course of five days 99 speakers are debating topics across themes including media and tech, customer experience and personalisation, brand experience and creativity and innovation for growth.