OPINION: Face to face with ad prejudice

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

Shock tactics usually have entirely the opposite effect to that intended with me. Instead of challenging me to reconsider my views, they tend either to make me turn off or, worse, to entrench me in my prejudices.

If a message is worth putting over, it is worth putting over through reason, argument and debate, not shouting in someone's face. There has been much debate recently over shock advertising - the British Heart Foundation's woman with the plastic bag over her head, Barnardo's posters of the prematurely aged children, and most recently, the Changing Faces Tube campaign about disfigurement. Some of these have provoked an avalanche of complaints, others caught the public's eye but put off donors.

My general reaction to such tactics is not a positive one - do we really have to resort to this to win hearts and minds? But the Changing Faces posters have been causing me to reconsider each time I see them. There are many sorts of prejudices - racial, sexual, against the disabled - and, to our credit as a society, we are working at all levels to tackle them. That doesn't mean they will go away, but we are certainly on the case. For me visual prejudice is up there with the worst of them. There's a line from Shakespeare that sums it up - "there's no art to find the mind's construction in the face".

We have gone such a long way as a society down the road of presentation over content - from pop stars who are cute but can't sing to politicians rated for their looks not their ideas. It is time to call a halt. That is the challenge of Changing Faces and, as one who is not above examining the ends of my eyes for lines and bemoaning the process of ageing, it has hit home hard. A success for the poster then, but I would still argue passionately for caution and a case-by-case approach. Why it works in this example, I feel, is that first the prejudice in question is so outrageous, but so deep-rooted, and second that since it is all about appearances, then a strong visual presentation is the logical way to address it.

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