Media Perspective: Sutherland shows what it means to be a true digital native

Last time I went to the IPA, which was quite a while ago, there was a framed interview with whoever was the president at the time on the wall.

The big pull-quote said something like "advertising needs to be positioned as crucial to business success". (I'm afraid I don't remember it exactly.)

That, I thought, right there, is the problem: advertising doesn't need to be positioned as making a contribution, it actually needs to make one. And I rolled my eyes and tutted, feeling quite pleased with my cleverness. And, to be honest, until recently, I'd rather given up on the idea that advertising might rehabilitate itself as an influential force in business or cultural thinking.

But then along came Rory Sutherland. (Full disclosure: I had lunch with Rory once, and he was very funny.) I suspect Rory represents advertising's final chance for broader business relevance and he's making a very good fist of it. Have a look at his TED video for evidence. To start with, he's got a TED video, he's on the front page, he's being passed around the blogosphere like the latest "Leave Britney Alone" video. Being featured on TED is the 21st century equivalent of heading the "Most Influential" newspaper list.

Second, he has developed the perfect post-Mad Men, post-No Logo, post-digital advertising personality: a kind of posh, impish, erudite, willing-to-say-what-everyone's-thinking pragmatist-with-a-twinkle shtick that's tremendously appealing. A mash up of Alan Clark, Patrick Moore and Private Walker from Dad's Army. It had the liberaller-than-thou, ban-these-evil-ad-merchants crowd at TED eating out of his hands.

Third, he's digitally literate. He's not a dabbler, he's not just on Facebook, he's familiar with a range of digital tools and uses them like the fabled "digital native". If you're not following him on Twitter I suggest you do so. He's funny, caustic and strangely obsessed with the delivery of packages.

But finally, and most importantly, with his embrace of behavioural economics he's offering an intellectual explanation for how advertising works that actually makes some sense and suggests a valid and valuable societal and economic role for it. Perhaps it's his direct marketing background, but he's the first leading advertising voice who's managed to shake off all that messaging/awareness nonsense and find a way of talking about marketing activity that has a) practical application and b) intellectual coherence.

His refraining of intangible value as economically important and truly sustainable is masterful. After years of advertising being afraid of its charismatic individuals and trying to present itself as a practical science, it's tremendous to see a real personality emerge: it's an enormous bonus that he also has a credible intellectual mission.

Rory: I hope you have a great presidency.


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