National Geographic Just Did a Face Swap Ad Campaign, and It’s Very Weird Indeed

Y&R's message of empathy gets lost

National Geographic has tried to put a 21st century spin on the idiom "Walk a mile someone else's shoes." Instead of shoes, people swap faces—a la Snapchat's face swap tool—in an odd new print campaign from Y&R São Paulo. 

The intentions of the campaign are sound. The "Swap Prejudice for Knowledge" campaign is meant to combat intolerance and encourage empathy. But the resulting work is lacking and potentially offensive. 

Does face swapping in a photo help you understand the other person's life, their circumstances, their problems, what it might be like to be another race? Certainly not. Even as metaphor, the ads—which Nat Geo hopes resonate with a younger audience and garner more subscribers—are about as surface and superficial an approach ad you could take. 

Sure, the idea of using a popular Snapchat meme seems like a solid approach to connect with millennials. But the campaign ignores why that Snapchat tool is popular. People aren't swapping their faces because they want to see what it's like to be another person. They're swapping faces because it's funny. Trying to import meaning onto that is naive. 

Agency: Y&R São Paulo
Client: National Geographic Brasil
Creative Director: Rui Branquinho
Head of Art: Felipe Pavani
Art Director: Mariana Villela
Copywriters: Rui Branquinho e Marina Erthal
Photographer: Getty Images
Art Buyer: Monica Beretta  e Stephanie Wang
Account: Vivianne Brafmann
Media Team: Gustavo Gaion, Marcello Bolla