How did you first discover your passion for digital retouching? My route came via my love of both art and science. I studied art and design at Arts University Bournemouth in Poole, United Kingdom. There, I worked with one of the first digital retouching systems, the Quantel Paintbox, to produce my final thesis. I discovered my love of art and storytelling when I began reading comic books and sci-fi from the age of five, which also uncovered my latent ability to draw. I became interested in computers because my school was one of the first to have them in the classroom, and seminal sci-fi films like Star Wars and Blade Runner only served to inspire me further to dive into computers and storytelling.
How did you begin working at creative production studio Saddington Baynes? The two founders, Chas Saddington and Dick Baynes, had been in the advertising industry since the 1960s. The three of us worked together at a different company and hit it off. They set up Saddington Baynes in 1991 on their own; I joined them in 1994 and have been there ever since.
You’re now chief executive officer of Saddington Baynes. What new skills did you have to learn when you took on this role? Running a business was new to me when I took over as CEO with my business partner, James Digby-Jones, in late 2008. It was right in the middle of the financial crash, so it would be fair to say that it was a real baptism by fire for both of us! Having to make painful, hard decisions and making them quickly was one of the first skills I had to learn when we let go of half of our team. Once we were able to get back on our feet by the end of that same year, we were able to triple in size in just a short few months. People management was another skill that both James and I acquired. We hired a business coach, which was a great way to learn to run and grow a business. The most important skills a CEO can have are to lead by example, to listen, and to hire talented, motivated people and give them the assurance and space to make a difference.
What’s your favorite part of working at Saddington Baynes? What gives me the biggest joy is the work. Even though I’ve been there for over half my life, I’m still energized and inspired by the opportunity to tell stories through the fusion of art and science. It takes me back to being that wide-eyed boy. Ultimately, I’m a creative through and through, and I get excited seeing the work unfold from the studio team. I know how it’s made, yet it still has the capacity to amaze me. And that amazement translates into the way I share our work with prospective clients.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of visual optimization and consultation service Engagement Insights? As image creators, we’re in the business of creating emotions through our work. As a retoucher, I’ve worked closely with creative directors and photographers to bring their vision for a campaign to life. And in doing so, I was always interested to know how they wanted people to feel when seeing the image. So many decisions that were made were intuitive or based on gut instinct. As Photoshop became the de facto retouching tool, more and more agencies started doing it in-house, which—to my mind—had a detrimental impact on image quality.
I had been interested in neuroscience for quite some time, and I’d attended a couple of conferences that focused on the testing of content after it had been launched. I had an idea to test whether poorly constructed imagery had any impact on consumer perception of a campaign—and the brand. This is how I met experienced neuromarketer Thom Noble of CloudArmy and began to work with him. It was clear that after just a couple of tests, perception can be significantly shifted in either a positive or negative direction even by the most nuanced changes in an image. So we set up Engagement Insights®, which uses implicit, nonconscious methodologies to test and measure emotional responses and brand resonance of our work while we create it. In this way, we can optimize the creative decision-making process for the audience and for the campaign objectives. We were very proud to win the 2018 Chartered Institute of Marketing Award for Best Use of Data and Insights with our work for Honda Europe.
What do you think is the role of neuroscience in branding? When you consider that more than 85 percent of our decisions as consumers are made with the emotional, nonconscious part of our brain, neuroscience plays an increasingly powerful role in unearthing insights about how consumers really feel about branding they see. In explicit question-based research, the consumer gets to think about their feelings, hence influencing them. As humans, we don’t always have access to our emotions nor are we able to adequately express them. Consumer neuroscience optimizes the creative buying process because it provides robust, measurable data without directly asking the person anything. They also don’t know what they’re being tested on, which gets past the issues of predisposed bias that occurs with focus groups and surveys.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you work in the next few years? The emergence of virtual production using real-time software like Unreal Engine is the biggest innovation that is already giving image makers and brands new ways of storytelling. Creators now have tools to develop and previsualize ideas on the fly, well before any production occurs. This will give rise to new ideas that will drive online and mobile experiences across screens, AR and VR.
Sustainability is a really important factor, and we’re hopeful that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the industry think differently about our responsibility for how we create our work. Virtual production is no doubt better for the planet. We’ve estimated that with flights alone for a typical crew, virtual production saves more than 50 percent in CO2 emissions.
What do you think will be the state of advertising in a post-COVID world? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think we’ve all learned to live differently and to consume differently. People may value experiences more than they did before and appreciate time with friends and family. Likely, there will be an explosion of retail therapy across many hard-hit sectors as we relax lockdown rules around the world and people feel able to venture out again, but I think we’re entering an era of more informed, responsible consumerism. As such, advertisers will need to close the perception gap between what they think consumers feel and knowing how they really feel, ensuring that they communicate authentically and provide value to people they want to reach. Consumers have a voice and a choice like no time in history, so for brands to be truly distinctive and relevant, they need to understand how they’re perceived and whether they’re trusted.