• Rory Sutherland

HOMO ECONOMICUS


Excerpt #3 from an interview with Rory Sutherland, published in Edge.org. Sutherland is Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman at OgilvyOne, a subset of 'madmen' Ogilvy & Mather, which in turn is a subset of WPP. OgilvyOne calls itself 'The Customer Agency', part advertising, part direct marketing, part of something else - 'The Thing for Which We Have No Name'.

'In the commercial world it's not in the interests of consumers to be rational. If you imagine a world of rational consumers where they all bought cars based on some formula, which was fuel economy multiplied by acceleration divided by depreciation or whatever it may be, what they would end up with would be really, really terrible cars.

'Car manufacturers would immediately game their predictable and easily understanding preferences and produce cars, which met all the metrics laid down for a desirable car, but the cars would be ugly, uncomfortable, and generally ghastly, and no pleasure to own.

'It is our interest, in a sense, as consumers to have a degree of unpredictability to our behavior and to be difficult to model.

'But homo economicus is really a contrivance in order to pretend that humans can be treated as though they were atoms or planets or something like that, which is a fundamental category error. It's what Hayek would call ".....a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed."

'Understanding human behavior is always, in my view, going to be slightly messy, imperfect, and so forth. Different people, by the way, will always use different heuristics in order to make decisions.

'No group of people will ever behave in an identical or predictable way, nor will they always maintain those behaviors or proxies for a long time.'

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