[Editor’s Note: Despite the byline this post was written by Creighton University Department of Journalism, Media & Computing student Madison Gilbert.]
The Salvation Army caused a buzz after beginning a campaign against domestic violence that featured references to the internet sensation “The Dress.” Two different ads that play off each other were released, both depicting a woman with visible signs of physical abuse. One ad featured a woman wearing The Dress, while the other used a play on words to reference the viral piece of clothing.
The Dress became a hot topic on the internet in early 2015 after a photo was posted on Tumblr of a dress that appeared to be blue and black to some viewers and white and gold to others. The photo went viral as the color of the dress was heavily debated, sparking the creation of often-referenced memes and leading to the sounding of sighs at the mention of “that one dress.”
In the midsts of the debate’s popularity, these ads were released by the Salvation Army in South Africa via a popular newspaper and the South African branch of the Salvation Army’s Twitter. Each ad was accompanied by the caption “Why is it so hard to see black & blue?” and the hashtag #StopAbuseAgainstWomen.
According to Philanthropy Magazine, Carin Holmes, the public-relations secretary for the Salvation Army in South Africa, said the ads were created to bring awareness to the problem of domestic violence, “a topic we address on a regular basis.” The ads tie the viral optical illusion to the illusion of covering up or ignoring domestic abuse.
Most responses to these ads have been positive, applauding the Salvation Army for using a popular reference to raise awareness for a widespread issue. Many people see the campaign as transforming a silly topic of discussion into a serious one.
However, some have criticized the ads for jumping on the bandwagon of the overnight internet sensation to target victims of abuse. Some people think that the ads’ focus on visual signs of abuse diminish the ability to legitimize abuse that does not leave physical marks. Others see these ads as sensationalizing The Dress more than the topic of abuse by piggybacking on popularity that will quickly die out. Yet others believe the lighthearted meme cheapens the seriousness of the issue.
Is highlighting one aspect of a campaign helpful or harmful to the campaign’s cause? Is it wrong to use a short-lived viral post to advertise a long-term societal problem? Is it unethical to diminish a person’s experience to a relatable meme?