Salvation Army Creates a Meaningful Message from a Simple Viral Debate

October 27, 2016

bdd brand snapshot

Ah, yes. Here we are again, on the cusp of another great internet phenomenon. This time, it’s a pair of legs. If you haven’t yet heard, Instagram user Hunter Culverhouse posted a photo of a pair of legs covered in white paint… But some people are seeing shiny, glossy legs instead. Cue the debate, and please excuse me while I stay away from my newsfeed for the next few days.

If you’re having deja vu, I’ll tell you why. This debate is arguably reminiscent of #thedress, when we quarreled over the color of that ensemble: Was it black and blue or white and gold? What many don’t do not recall, however, is the award-winning campaign that stemmed from the sensation.

The Salvation Army International in South Africa hired advertising agency Ireland Davenport to peak global interest with an image of a heavily bruised female model wearing the #thedress (in decidedly, white and gold). The piece, published primarily in print, included the headline ‘Why is it so hard to see black and blue?’ alongside the subtext ‘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 is also included.

The campaign cleverly highlights the issue of domestic violence in the country while simultaneously publicizing The Salvation Army’s work supporting victims of abuse and human trafficking.

“I didn’t think it was risky at all,” said Carin Holmes, public-relations secretary for the Salvation Army in South Africa, to “Domestic violence is very real in South Africa. It is a topic we address on a regular basis. When I saw the ad, I just realized it was brilliant and was quite happy to put the shield on it.”

Ron Busroe, the national spokesman for Salvation Army USA, noted the campaign turned a novel conversation into something both powerful and meaningful. Moreover, the campaign raised awareness of the organization’s services for victims of domestic violence, an important piece of the nonprofit many are completely unaware of.

Plenty of companies have taken advantage of viral sensations, but these campaigns require quick thinking and ultra-fast turnaround.

What are some other ways brands have raised important issues using trivial topics?

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Nick Westergaard
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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.