Rory Sutherland

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Rory Sutherland is Vice Chairman of OgilvyOne London and the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather UK.1 Ogilvy Group describes itself as “one of the largest and most influential communications groups in the UK.”

The Group specialises in advertising and public relations, with about a dozen specialist branches with “expertise in areas as diverse as design, direct, digital and healthcare” in addition to public relations and advertising.2 The Group is part of Ogilvy & Mather, an international advertising and public relations company with a long history of working with the tobacco industry – going back to the early 1950s – as detailed on our Ogilvy Group page.

Sutherland is a self-proclaimed libertarian. His backing of the freedom to smoke and his opposition against plain packaging fit his widely disseminated views on the powers of the market and of branding. According to the organisation’s website, Sutherland is one of the founding members of the The Common Sense Alliance, a lobby group for the tobacco industry.

Career and Accolades

Sutherland is well-respected in the marketing and advertising world.

He joined Ogilvy UK’s planning department in 1988, and became a copywriter 18 months later working on Microsoft’s account in its pre-Windows days. According to a complimentary review on public speaking website, “Advertising guru” Sutherland understood the possibilities of digital technology and the Internet and it was this understanding which led to his rise to his eventual position as Vice Chairman of The Ogilvy Group in 2005.3

Sutherland had a fortnightly column called ‘The Wiki Man’ in the right-wing Spectator magazine in which he discussed technology and the web.

Talking of his colleague, Chairman of the Ogilvy Group Gary Leih has said:

“Rory is the original advocate of ‘360-degree branding,’ a persuasive and charismatic speaker and has a tremendous knack for making ideas come to life in an easily digestible way. He has been walking the walk longer than anyone.”

Sutherland was awarded the accolade of ‘Business Communicator of the Year’ 2013 by the UK Speechwriters’ Guild for being the most outstanding public speaker in business over the last 12 months.4

Common Sense Alliance

Sutherland is a founding member of The Common Sense Alliance, a lobby group ‘supported by British American Tobacco (BAT) Limited’, that opposes government regulation with regards to plain packaging for tobacco products. It also campaigns against levies for premises that serve alcohol between midnight and 6am, nutritional labelling on food products, and taxes on fatty foods.5

Two other founding members of The Common Sense Alliance, ex-police officers Roy Ramm and Peter Sheridan, have lobbied government opposing the proposed introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products in the UK.

The information about Sutherland on The Common Sense Alliance’s web page describes him as Former President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. It does not mention that he is the current Chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.6

Pro-Smoking and Pro-Branding

Sutherland has used the example of the right to smoke in many talks about the importance of branding, and did so long before his involvement with the Common Sense Alliance. The title of an ironical piece he wrote in the online Raconteur7 was ‘Standing up for lightning up’:

In this Viewpoint, Sutherland makes generalised and unsubstantiated claims like:

“From Bach to Beethoven, from Björn & Benny to Brian Wilson, it is hard to identify a composer or songwriter of any worth who was a non-smoker. Among the ranks of great writers and poets, non-smokers are few – even John Milton lit up. Perhaps tobacco makes possible those sustained bouts of abstract thought which are essential to science and the arts.”

He promoted nicotine as the only drug apart from caffeine you can enjoy while working, but fails to mention the dangers of smoking: “It’s the addiction of choice for the industrious person.” Apart from that:

“A proper cost-benefit analysis of nicotine, rather than the current Manichaean demonization of the drug, is long overdue. And, if doctors are now most worried about the crisis of obesity, maybe what the world needs is a really reliable appetite suppressant. Er, like nicotine?”

Sutherland goes on to suggest that nicotine “feeds the unconscious mind and restores it to its proper prominence.” He does not offer any evidence of this. His conclusion is a plea for the use of e-cigarettes.7

When it comes to making a case against the proposals for plain packaging of cigarettes (“and possibly for alcohol after that”), Sutherland uses every possible argument, from the known industry arguments, such as the alleged risk of increased smuggling, to the more rhetorical ones, such as the danger of going back to “the days of communist central planning” and that plain packaging might make smoking more attractive at the same time.

For example, he argued:

You could try banning decorative or elegant cigarette cases too, but only at the risk of making them even cooler. Smoking now is, after all, a minor act of rebellion; driving it underground may make it seem more James Dean than ever.8

The heading of this piece for ran: “If we banish the branding, we’ll lose the trust in quality”. Consumers will be placed at risk if alcohol and tobacco branding is outlawed, Sutherlands says.

To own a brand is to own a double-edged sword: it brings advantages but also responsibilities. Without clear branding, why should any maker or retailer care, beyond very basic adherence to the law, what ingredients are contained within its products? Expensive filter cigarettes or the scrapings from the factory floor?8

Anti Smoking Campaign by Ogilvy UK, 2007: tanker shaped as cigarette – plastered with hazardous material warning labels

Ogilvy Also Produced Anti-Smoking Campaigns

In the past few years, Ogilvy offices in several countries have designed anti-smoking campaigns as well. As detailed on the Ogilvy Group page, in 2003 a campaign against passive smoking was pulled in fear of annoying its tobacco industry clients. In 2007, however, Ogilvy was awarded a Cannes Lions Direct Gold price for the “Smoke is Poison” campaign. As part of this campaign, a gas tanker in the form of a cigarette drove around the UK, plastered with hazardous material warning labels (see picture).9. The Cannes Lion jury was chaired by Rory Sutherland.

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  1. The Ogilvy Group, Our Team, accessed June 2021
  2. The Ogilvy Group, Our Work, accessed March 2013
  3., Rory Sutherland, accessed June 2021
  4. The Ogilvy Group, Speechwriters Guild announces Rory Sutherland as business communicator of the year 2013, Blog, 4 February 2013 accessed March 2013
  5. Common Sense Alliance, home page, archived May 2013
  6. The Common Sense Alliance, Founding Members, archived August 2014
  7. abRory Sutherland, Standing up for lighting up, The Raconteur, 13 June 2012, archived August 2013
  8. abRory Sutherland, If we banish the branding, we’ll lose the trust in quality, 19 October 2012,, archived March 2021
  9. Noor Fathima Warsia, O&M, Everest take home a Bronze each in Direct; JWT wins a Promo Lion, Exchange for Media, Cannes Lions, 19 June 2007, archived April 2013