Salvation Army The Dress and Domestic Violence Ad Sparks Debate About Social Justice Marketing

Anyone who has had any access to the internet in the last few weeks knows about The Dress, which sparked a widespread debate about the colors of the dress (Team Black and Blue versus Team White and Gold) and the nature of human perception. Now, The Dress is in the spotlight again for a different reason.

The debate about the dress had largely died down, but last week the South African Salvation Army used the dress to draw attention to domestic violence. The Salvation Army asked, “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?” paired with an image of a badly bruised woman wearing The Dress in gold and white and the hashtag #StopAbuseAgainstWomen.

The ad continues: “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice,” the ad says. “One in 6 women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.”

Domestic violence charges can result from a person assaulting a family member, a spouse, or a member of his or her household. According to CBS, the powerful ad campaign has been well-received for the most part — people have said that it’s brilliant and that it’s a good use of social media as a marketing and social justice tool.

Some critics, however, argue that the use of popular topics and social memes to promote social justice can be in poor taste. When charities use shocking images or those that are intended to engage peoples’ emotions, it could become problematic.

The Guardian describes this pretty aptly, using the example of “feed the children” charities. Charities that use images of thin and under-dressed African children with insects flying around them to inspire people to donate to a fund is problematic because it’s a misleading portrayal of the area, which is flourishing.

Ads that pull at the heartstrings sometimes not only show a misrepresentation of the issue, but it also places it in the advertising realm — which could make the issue seem pedestrian as well as small in size and scope.


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