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The Salvation Army Uses “The Dress” To Make A Point About Domestic Violence

The agency behind the Salvation Army ad that used The Dress to address domestic violence talks about making PSA hay from a viral phenomenon-really fast.

The Salvation Army Uses “The Dress” To Make A Point About Domestic Violence

Last week the entire world was consumed with a certain textile optical illusion. The web–including brands and celebrities–took on the challenge of figuring out just what color The Dress actually was, and a new meme-to-beat was born.

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But The Salvation Army in South Africa, and agency Ireland/Davenport, may just have come up with the best use of all this hype. The charity created a PSA poster to raise awareness of domestic violence that shows a woman wearing the gold and white version (or is it…?) of the dress, but covered in cuts and bruises. The tagline? “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?”

Ireland/Davenport creative director Wihan Meerholz says the idea came from seeing all the web comments on how such an insignificant thing like this dress could take zeitgeist priority over more pressing issues. “The creative wheels just came off and we developed three goals,” says Meerholz. “First, how do we use this meme to our advantage? Second, how do we use it for something worthwhile? And third, how do we make something in 24 hours, while the dress was still a hot topic?”

The agency approached The Salvation Army in South Africa, who quickly gave the go ahead. Meerholz says the agency then asked the rest of its suppliers for help with the quick turnaround and they dropped everything to help with the project. An agency staffer was enlisted as the model, they had 40 minutes to do the make up, an hour to shoot and two hours to do post. And since they didn’t actually have The Dress, it was added in post. “It was a project of belief and passion that we hope will make a bit of change and leave a positive message,” says Meerholz.

While advertisers, even charities, wade into cultural conversations at their peril, the social media reaction to the appropriation, from creative professionals and civilians alike, has been generally positive in tone.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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