OPINION19 January 2022

Rory Sutherland: The value of nothing

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In his most recently published Impact column, Rory Sutherland reflects on the real price of overquantifying.

two grey rulers displaying different scales

It is probably time for the veterans of the direct marketing industry to write a letter of apology to everyone currently working in advertising and marketing. The letter would have a headline (because, in direct marketing, letters do have headlines) and it would read something like this: “We’re sorry – we really should have warned you about this earlier.”

Allow me to explain. I spent the first 20 years of my career very happily working in a direct marketing agency. Because our work was measurable and results were quantifiable, I learned a great deal in this field. Working in direct marketing in the last century not only exposed you to wonderful luminaries such as Drayton Bird and Steve Harrison, but also taught you about the vagaries of human behaviour.

My joyous years in direct marketing were rather like being paid to conduct social science experiments on a grand scale. The often counterintuitive findings from testing and measurement revealed a great deal ...