This past weekend, a South African branch of the Salvation Army released a new domestic violence ad on social media. The image references "the Dress" debate, or "Dressgate" -- a viral photograph meme that arose in late-February 2015.
Why is it so hard to see black and blue? One in 6 women are victims of abuse. #StopAbuseAgainstWomen pic.twitter.com/FgDdKdsMMbAttending a wedding of two friends, Caitlin McNeil reposted a photograph of dress belonging to the bride's mother on her Tumblr account. The picture had originally been posted to the wedding couple's (Grace and Keir Johnston of Scotland) Facebook page.
— TheSalvationArmySA (@SalvationArmySA) March 6, 2015
The dress could not possibly look more blue and black to me, but apparently the vast majority of the online community sees a white dress with gold trimmings. The debate between #blueandblack and #whiteandgold quickly seemed to consume the Internet, with actors, musicians, politicians, and even government agencies weighing on the issue. Eventually, it was confirmed that the Romans Originals dress was -- in fact -- royal blue and black. The gold-and-whiters had perceived the photo as being underexposed, as opposed to overexposed.
The above South African Salvation Army ad (made in partnership with Carehaven, a home for abused women and children) poses a simple question:
Why is it so hard to see black and blue --The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in 6 women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.The message is superimposed over an image is of a young woman wearing a white-and-gold version of the Dress, her body covered in dark bruises. The subtext appears to be that domestic abuse - in its various forms - has almost become so commonplace that we are blind to it.
Of course, any relationship between an optical illusion and our society's failure to sufficiently confront the issue of violence against women is, at best, extremely tenuous. It's probably nonexistent. Yet, the effectiveness of the ad -- in terms of a large brand creating viral content -- is not disputed. The ad confronts us with a serious challenge: Although we may be excused for failing to see a blue and black dress, what excuses do we have for failing to see the black and blue bruises of domestic violence, however subtle they may be?
However, I'm curious to hear what other people think of the ad. Does the image go to far? Does the reference to a silly meme turn domestic violence into a punchline? Perhaps more importantly - who is the ad aimed at? Is the ad demanding that abusers stop their "abuse against women"? Is it asking society-at-large to support (financially or otherwise) Salvation Army initiatives that help abused women and children?
My suspicion is that the ad is primarily aimed at victims (alternatively, "survivors") of domestic abuse themselves. The Salvation Army has done a lot of great work in the service of abused and/or trafficked women and children over the years, and my guess is that it regularly faces the challenge of trying to help victims who may not want or understand their need for help. Victims may be trying to protect their abusers, deluded into not seeing the abuse, or -- as the ad suggests -- they may interpret the abuse as their fault, and therefore a consequence of their "choice."
In any case, I find the message powerful, and can admire -- especially from a marketing standpoint -- the mildly clever piggy-backing on a popular Internet meme to raise awareness of a more serious issue. Over the past few weeks, the Feminist Legal Theory blog has addressed issues ranging from the misogyny of online "trolls" on social media networks to the growth of "femvertising" as a marketing tool. We've also discussed the potential utility of memes (e.g., Feminist Ryan Gosling) in raising awareness of feminist beliefs through viral content on social media. So although ads such as this Salvation Army one may have its share of critics, I generally see it as very encouraging that despite the cruel and bigoted reactions that are often elicited from similar marketing campaigns, women's advocates are not backing down.