01/05/2012 10:15 BST | Updated 30/06/2012 06:12 BST

Ad Review: Changing Faces -- Leo

I've been watching a lot of TV lately and I've noticed DDB's (a Worldwide advertising agency with offices globally, particularly in London and New York) recent ads have been getting bolder each time. The subtle ways in which they challenge perceptions, whilst making a product appealing seems almost effortless. Examples of this are demonstrated in the 'Keep Up' Virgin Media campaign starring Usain Bolt and the 'Don't Make Up and Drive' Volkswagen advert. Recently, the agency have channeled their expertise to create a thought provoking campaign for Changing Faces; a charity for people and families whose lives are affected by conditions, marks or scars that cause facial disfigurement. The campaign is a call for a more balanced portrayal of people with disfigurements in film. In addition, its aim is to change the audiences views of people with this condition.

The advert filmed by Jim Weedon features Michelle Dockery from Downtown Abbey and Leo, a man with burn scars. By including a star actress alongside a burn victim, it gives the campaign more weight in its message to promote facial equality in film. The background music, heavy rainfall and dark lighting thrust the audience into a sinister scene. Although the setting is reminiscent of a horror movie, the tension in the opening scene is quite measured. I think this approach was used to create space for interpretation by not leading the audience too much. By cautiously guiding the viewer through the narrative, some members of the audience fall into the trap of thinking Leo is the villain by using his facial disfigurement as a basis for his character. Such knee-jerk assumptions have been the result of years of film conditioning that have led people to accept that facial disfigurement is an indicator of an evil person (Characters that come to mind are Two-Face, Dr Doom and Freddy Krueger). We may not realize it, but it has become automatic in our mental processes. Others may argue that the tense and sinister setting in the advert encourages negative assumptions to be made. I argue that it was a catalyst to expose the audiences' way of thinking to themselves. This push for self re-examination is further accelerated by the question: 'What did you think was going to happen?'

I must admit, the pessimist in me questions how one advert can change years of mental conditioning. The optimist in me believes that this is a long-term battle that should be fought with a long-term campaign strategy. In order to counter the years of conditioning there are two ways DDB can take this campaign further. One way is by turning the advert into a series, depicting Leo as the hero. Alternatively, the advert could become an online campaign that gives the audience the chance to select what happens next. This will enable viewers to be active in their efforts to change their way of thinking. It also makes the audience less passive in their response to the advert.

DDB and Changing Faces have been courageous to go head to head with widely held beliefs that have been proliferated through movies. By showing the advert in cinemas it reinforces the massive steps that are being taken to achieve face equality. In other words, the campaign is practicing what it is preaching.