White and Gold or Black and Blue…Should That Really Be The Question?

Mar 18

For the better part of the last weekend in February, my parents (in their seventies) visiting from Brooklyn, my eleven year old daughter, my seven year old son, my nineteen year old au pair from Denmark, and various friends and family as far flung as France and as close in as a few blocks from my Capitol Hill home, debated whether or not “The Dress” was white and gold or  black and blue. (#thedress, #whiteandgold, #blackandblue.)

White and gold or blue and black...the dress that got the world talking.

“The Dress”

It went on and on, literally, day and night. And we weren’t alone…“The Dress” went viral in the truest sense of the word. A modern day word of mouth explosion witnessed online as people shared “The Dress’’ and declared that they saw white and gold or black and blue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, BuzzFeed, and so on. According to the New York Times, by Friday afternoon, a day after “The Dress” first got posted, it was viewed 28 million times…within a week more than 10 million tweets talked about it, and celebrities, who have millions and millions of followers, began commenting and sharing as well, which only fueled the fire and spread it more.

My circle didn’t begin the debate until after midnight on Friday. The nation’s, well let me revise that and say the world’s, attention towards “The Dress” carried on throughout the weekend. And people weren’t just viewing it, they were debating it. Full-fledged, passion-driven, answer-seeking, opinion-sharing debates.

In a field where I spend a lot of time thinking through how best to reach the public, develop key messages that resonate, and identify strategies and tactics that will engage people in a permanent way, I found myself wondering what it was about “The Dress” that captured the attention of millions around the world in a matter of days…and got them talking. Was it the opportunity to engage in a heated, yet benign debate? Was it the inability to fully understand or explain a very strange experience? Was it just so fascinating (and funny) that people couldn’t let go of their color side?

I just don’t know. But public engagement and enthusiasm for moments like “The Dress”  do make me ask myself how we, as public health professionals committed to social change, can harness the power of this kind of phenomenon to advance our missions and inspire people.

The Salvation Army seems to have asked themselves the same thing. The South African branch of the Salvation Army, seizing on the frenzy of “The Dress” conversation, created an ad that repurposed “The Dress” debate by using it to bring attention to domestic violence. How powerful, if in only a weekend, we could get the world talking about a problem that, according to the Salvation Army’s campaign, one in six women are victims of.

The South African Salvation Army repurposed "The Dress" to bring attention to domestic violence.

The South African Salvation Army’s Domestic Violence Ad

That would be a conversation I’d like to follow. But sadly, at least in my online circle, the campaign hasn’t surfaced once. How about in yours?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 at 1:05 am and is filed under Behavior Change, Media, Ogilvy Washington, Public Health, Social Marketing, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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