The Spot: Beauty and the Beast

DDB's PSA about facial disfigurement exposes the ugly face of prejudice

Headshot of Tim Nudd

IDEA: DDB in London has worked for years with Changing Faces, a U.K. charity that assists people with disfigurements. Recently, the agency noted a disturbing phenomenon: In films, people with facial disfigurements are almost always bad guys. "Whenever you see an unusual looking face on the big screen, you automatically assume something nasty is going to happen," said DDB creative director Chris Lapham. This seemed like a good insight, particularly for a cinema spot. The agency hired Downton Abbey actress Michelle Dockery, burn victim Leo Gormley and director Jim Weedon to shoot an ad that would make the audience rethink its kneejerk assumptions about people with disfigurements. The idea even inspired Changing Faces to launch a whole new initiative, Face Equality on Film, calling for balanced portrayals of people with disfigurements in movies.

COPYWRITING: A man whose face is marked by burn scars arrives at a young woman's house in the rain. He parks his car, approaches and knocks. Taken by surprise, the woman answers the door, looking nervous. Momentarily stunned by what she sees, she then smiles and embraces the man—it turns out he's just a friend who's arrived early for dinner. The plot twist is meant to provoke a moment of shock and selfawareness in the viewer—it's prejudice that has filled in the gaps in the story and made it feel sinister. "The viewer's mind must make the leap and assume something bad or sinister is about to happen," said Lapham. "We were very careful not to lead the viewer too much. Everything in the piece is perfectly plausible. At the end of the day, it's just a guy, who happens to be disfigured, going round to a friend's for dinner."

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: The spot has an eerie ambience, but it's muted. "We were careful not to be stereotypically 'horror,' which is why we didn't choose a cabin in the woods and why there's no thunder and lightning," said DDB creative director Aaron McGurk. It is quite shadowy, however, and shot to look visually grand. "We wanted the spot to feel filmic based on the bigger campaign thought about how people with disfigurement are portrayed in film," McGurk said.

TALENT: Dockery, 30, who plays Lady Mary Crawley on Downton Abbey, got involved after Changing Faces founder James Partridge happened to meet Julian Fellowes, creator of the PBS drama, and told him of the idea. Gormley, 60, who was burned in an explosion at age 14 and subsequently endured 120 operations, was discovered through Changing Faces, which had helped him over the years. "He's actually a camera specialist, but after this we think he should change his career and move to Hollywood," said McGurk.

SOUND: "We initially thought the edit would be the hardest part, but the sound was the most difficult by far," said McGurk. They didn't want a musical soundtrack, which would be emotionally manipulative. Weedon was inspired by the great opening scene from the 1968 film Once Upon a Time in the West, where "tension is created by just the smallest sounds … like leaking water drops or creaking signs in the wind," McGurk said. The spot does employ one musical device. Gormley is listening to opera on the car radio at the start; when he turns it off, Dockery switches on the same station inside the house. This was something the creatives had seen on a soap opera. "It created an intriguing link between two characters that drew you into the story," said McGurk.

MEDIA: The spot is running in 750 cinemas across the U.K. The Face Equality on Film initiative is being spearheaded through the client's Facebook page.



Client: Changing Faces

Agency: DDB UK

Executive Creative Director: Jeremy Craigen

Creative Team: Aaron McGurk & Chris Lapham

Account Director: Nick Owen

Film Prod Co: Bare Films

Director: Jim Weedon

Producer: Kelly Doyle

Audio House: Wave

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.