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Already viral, Salvation Army uses #TheDress to spotlight domestic violence
The Salvation Army's South African advertisement using #TheDress to spotlight domestic abuse has gone global, focusing attention on the problem. - photo by Mark A. Kellner
What was a recent viral Internet phenomenon has rapidly became a powerful symbol in the fight against domestic abuse.

The South African branch of The Salvation Army, an evangelical Christian church with a strong commitment to social services, worked with a Johannesburg advertising agency to draw attention to domestic violence, using the hyper-popular meme of a dress seen by some as white-and-gold and others as black-and-blue in photographs to convey a deeper point.

"Why is it so hard to see black and blue," asks the print advertisement, which illustrates a model wearing the white-and-gold version of the dress along with numerous bruises (applied via makeup) that offer a different perspective.

"The only illusion is if you think it was her choice," the ad, created by the Ireland/Davenport agency, reads. "One in 6 women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women."

From its publication in the Cape Times newspaper and a single Twitter posting by The Salvation Army, the ad featuring #TheDress quickly went global, as many high-impact images do these days. More than 16 million people saw the ad its first day, reports indicate.

"We wanted to take advantage of the hype of the meme to spread awareness for something important," Wihan Meerhloz, creative director at the ad agency, told ABC News. "Our creative team brainstormed ways to send a greater message about overlooked abuse against women using the dress."

Meerhloz added, "We thought of the idea, produced it and offered it completely free to the Salvation Army in less than 24 hours."

American advertising trade journal AdWeek hailed the effort as a "brilliant" public-service advertisement and "what just might be the most harrowing take on the viral phenomenon" of #TheDress.

The Salvation Army's international headquarters in London noted that its South African unit has a longstanding commitment to helping abuse victims.

"The Salvation Army operates two residential care centres in South Africa in Cape Town and Johannesburg which provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of abused women. The programs help them to recover from their abusers and leave as independent, confident women," a Salvation Army news release said. One of those shelters is CareHaven, which specifically targets the poor for assistance, and which has helped more than 5,000 people.

Along with media acclaim, the advertisement drew a large number of approving messages on Twitter, such as this one from Reema in England:

For The Salvation Army, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding in East London this year, caring for abuse victims has been a longstanding concern. General William Booth, an itinerant Methodist evangelist who said he'd "found his destiny" in the gritty slums of the Whitechapel district, summed up his life's mission in a farewell address delivered May 9, 1912:

"While women weep, as they do now, Ill fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, Ill fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, Ill fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, Ill fight, Ill fight to the very end!"
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