How The Salvation Army Used "The Dress"

by Alicia Lu

Just a week ago, the entire Internet was engaged in a shouting match over the colors of a dress. It became such a monumental debate that celebrities, politicians and brands joined in — remember Lego's iconic reconstruction of The Dress? One brand, however, chose to use the heated discussion to promote a particularly important cause. The Salvation Army used the dress in a domestic violence PSA, taking advantage of something viral to raise awareness of an issue that affects millions of women around the world.

The ad campaign, which was created by the South African chapter of the Salvation Army, features a woman lying on her side wearing the now-infamous lace-striped dress in its white-and-gold version. But she also has a bloodied lip, bloodshot eyes, and is covered in black-and-blue bruises. The caption reads: "Why is it so hard to see black and blue." Underneath the caption, in smaller text, the ad states:

The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.

Not only is the PSA a clever use of a topical subject, it's haunting and powerful.

I'm sure you haven't forgotten, but here's a refresher on why the dress became such a viral phenomenon: A Tumblr user posted a picture of the Roman Originals dress, asking her followers what colors they see. She received a torrent of responses that quickly spread beyond her blog and into the entire webosphere. Some people saw white and gold while others saw black and blue, but both sides were equally staunch in their position. Friends, families, the entire country was divided.

The Salvation Army's ad makes several references to the original conundrum. The caption "Why is it so hard to see black and blue?" not only nods to the camp that refused to see the dress as white and gold, but its much-darker significance refers to those who turn a blind eye toward domestic violence. In the U.S., according to a recent study by Avon Foundation For Women, roughly 60 percent of Americans say they know someone who has been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, but of the victims who told someone about it, 58 percent said nobody helped them.

The PSA also emphasizes that, unlike with the dress, the black and blue in this ad is not a choice, nor is it an illusion. It's poignant and rightfully disturbing. Domestic violence and sexual assault have long been important issues for the Salvation Army's South African chapter, which is hoping to "raise awareness against the atrocity of women abuse" with its latest ad, spokeswoman Carin A. Holmes told NBC News. The charity organization also runs two centers for abused women in South Africa, CareHaven in Cape Town and Beth Shan in Johannesburg. The PSA was placed in Friday morning's Cape Times newspaper and was released just ahead of International Women's Day on March 8.

Images: The Salvation Army