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Why making #TheDress into a partner violence PSA was a bad idea

Why making #TheDress into a partner violence PSA was a bad idea

Why making TheDress Salvation Army PSA into a partner violence PSA was a bad idea

When a consumer brand like Oreo takes advantage of a realtime marketing meme or moment, we celebrate the agility of the marketing team. So it’s understandable that social marketers want to get in on the action.

It’s not always a good idea.

The Salvation Army of South Africa Tweeted this PSA about violence against women (#VAW) today, piggy-backing on the attention of last week’s “it” meme, the dress that different people saw in different colours.

Even though #TheDress is so last week, it is still enough of a viral phenomenon that the ad will get attention. But is attention really what the issue needs?

The Salvation Army, and their agency, certainly intended well. But the issue of partner (and stranger) violence against women is very serious, and very deeply embedded in societal attitudes towards women, especially by men. We can all agree that it’s bad. (I hope!) But what is the role of social marketing in reducing, preventing, or someday ending gendered violence against women?

Awareness is one component. But it takes more than awareness that women are being brutalized to make change. It requires a better understanding of how we all contribute to an environment that allows it to happen so commonly.

I don’t dislike this ad for trying to get people to talk about the problem. I dislike it because I feel that the cleverness of the creative distracts from the seriousness of the issue. As an ad creative myself, I know that ads like this tend to do more for the agency and the brand than they do for the issue. But because the issue is such an important one, industry and mainstream media will speak in hushed tones about how “powerful” this PSA is.

But what is the power, really? The shock factor of a beautiful model battered and bruised? We’ve seen that before, and the unsetting juxtaposition of sexy and hurt is quite problematic. Isn’t one of the biggest problems that men still see women as sex objects? There are even disturbed people who would find such things erotic 🙁

The real reason we’re talking about this ad, let’s admit, is because it seems like a savvy appropriation of a social meme for a good cause.

Well, violence against women is no Oreo. But now that they have your attention, I suggest you get over #TheDress already, and donate to CareHaven — or a women’s shelter near you.

The cause doesn’t just need your attention, or even your shares. It needs your committed support to help survivors and stop the violence.

Source: i100


I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more