The Sal­va­tion Army: Why is it so hard to see black and blue?

Exhibited by
Rebecca Wilson
August 26, 2021
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
All donors
Type of Charity
Domestic abuse awareness
Country of Origin
South Africa
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

This is an example of how charities can use social issues to make a mark on the world. A deserved winner of IWITOT (I Wish I’d Thought of That) UK & Europe 2021, this campaign by The Salvation Army in South Africa took an online viral sensation (people debating the colours of a dress) and used it to highlight a crucial issue. Regardless of how the fundraising worked out, which is up for discussion, this is a genius campaign that created ripples that swirled around the world.

Editor’s note: please be warned that this case study contains images that illustrate the devastation caused by domestic abuse.

Summary / objectives

One in six women is a victim of domestic abuse. The Salvation Army Southern Africa Territory used a dress the colour of which people couldn’t agree on to raise awareness of domestic abuse and raise money for their refuge for women and children, Care Haven.


Cast your mind back to March 2015, when one question divided the world: ‘what colour is #THEDRESS?’ Was it gold and white or black and blue? Originally #TheDress trended for five days and was covered by media across the world. By the 5th of March things had begun to taper off. The Salvation Army in South Africa, which also covers neighbouring countries, decided it needed to make a comeback to highlight the horrors of domestic abuse.

Creator / originator

The Salvation Army Southern Africa Territory and agency Ireland / Davenport (editor’s note: Ireland / Davenport changed its name to Collective ID in 2018 but sadly later closed.)


The core success of the appeal was the pro bono provision of skills, expertise, and time of agency Ireland / Davenport. The jury is still out on how well the campaign did in terms of fundraising, but there was a spike in donations, and the value of the partnership between agency and charity was priceless.


This whole campaign was made possible by a pro bono partnership with Ireland / Davenport Design Agency in South Africa who worked on the campaign for free. They donated their time, skills, and expertise. This wouldn’t have happened without that partnership.

Special characteristics

What I love about this campaign is that it is reactive. It is the definition of agile. 

It is about having your finger on the pulse of what is happening at the time and leveraging that to increase your exposure.

The Salvation Army were flexible, they took risks and boy did it pay off. I think what I love most about this is that I brought a really important issue into the public consciousness.

Ultimately this isn’t about whether the dress is black and blue or white and gold. This is about women and children who are victims of domestic abuse and making sure they know when to turn when they need help the most.

Influence / impact

The Salvation Army in South Africa tweeted this image to launch their domestic abuse campaign, and to raise awareness of Care Haven, a refuge for women and children who had been subject to domestic violence. The team in South Africa hadn’t anticipated that that this campaign would reach an international audience and had initially run this campaign in isolation. But within minutes, #TheDress was viral again.  

Different Salvation Army country headquarters across the world had to act fast, so let me just take you through the events of those first few hours. 

- The original tweet was shared just after 10am.

- By midday teams around the world had received interview requests from national and international media organisations. 

- Shortly after that, an international news feature was drafted and approved by The Salvation Army headquarters (HQ). 

- By 2:30pm the image and campaign were published and distributed across 125 countries where the Salvation Army operates.

- The campaign was then picked up by the BBC News website – and continued to snowball. 

- At 4:30pm spokespeople on five continents were being interviewed about the campaign. 

- And by the end of the day ‘Salvation Army’ AND ‘dress’ were trending on Twitter in most English-speaking countries. 

Not bad for a day’s work hey? And the activity continued throughout the night.

Rebecca's presentation at IWOTOT UK & Europe

View original image
Everyone remembers this dress that went viral. Let us know which colours you see in the comments section below.
View original image
The Salvation Army reappropriated the dress to highlight the crucial issue of domestic violence and it subsequently went viral again.