‘The dress’ ad reaches 16 million

The Salvation Army South Africa capitalizes on a social media phenomenon to raise awareness of abuse.

An innovative Salvation Army campaign in South Africa to raise awareness of domestic abuse took social media by storm. Only a few hours after a hard-hitting advertisement was published, the social media reach had hit more than 16 million people.

At the end of February, millions of people passed their opinion on the color of a strangely lit dress, quickly known simply as “the dress” or #thedress—with a majority convinced it was white and gold and most of the rest recognizing that it was actually blue and black. Scientists from around the world were called upon to explain the phenomenon and share their expertise on why people see color differently.

Advertising agency Ireland Davenport took the worldwide interest and used it to highlight the issue of domestic violence in South Africa, while also publicizing The Salvation Army’s work with abused and trafficked women. They photographed an image of a bruised model wearing a copy of the dress. The Army’s ad, published in the Cape Times with the headline “Why is it so hard to see black and blue,” along with text: “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.” A phone number for anyone needing support was also included.

The Salvation Army operates two residential care centers in South Africa—in Cape Town and Johannesburg—which provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of abused women. The programs help them to recover from their abusers and leave as independent, confident women.

“Awareness of the problems of domestic abuse and human trafficking is key for us, and the reaction to this campaign is overwhelming,” said Major Carin Holmes, public relations secretary for The Salvation Army Southern Africa Territory. “More than 3,000 Tweets per hour shows the desperateness of the situation—domestic violence and human trafficking needs to be stopped.”

Holmes also revealed that Ireland Davenport did not charge The Salvation Army for its services.

Reaction to the campaign became a trending topic on Twitter, with voices including fashion magazine Cosmopolitan, New York’s Adweek and youth-orientated UK news site BBC Newsbeat. TV and radio stations around the world ran items about the campaign.

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