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#FreeToWalk - America's Largest Prison Break


MSL Chicago’s #FreeToWalk campaign for Allstate Foundation Purple Purse evolved the narrative around a twelve-year program by shining a spotlight on the silent epidemic of financial abuse and its role in keeping domestic violence victims trapped.

Region North America
Practices Social Purpose and Sustainability

The Challenge

Financial abuse occurs in 99 percent of all domestic violence cases and is the No. 1 reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships; yet, nearly eight in 10 Americans are unaware that financial abuse is even a form of domestic violence. Over the last 12 years, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse has invested more than $55 million to empower women to break free from financial abuse and has propelled more than 1 million victims on the road to safety and security.

Although the program saw significant media success before 2016, a major portion of that media coverage focused on the program’s celebrity ambassador, actress Kerry Washington, and the annual release of a physical purple purse used for fundraising. This focus did not always clearly articulate the primary message: financial empowerment is the best tool to end domestic violence. Because of this, Purple Purse was positioned more as a fashion-focused program than as a leader in the domestic violence space.

The Objective

The Allstate Foundation tapped MSL Chicago, along with sister advertising agency Leo Burnett, to strengthen and evolve the Purple Purse brand and to bring mass awareness to this all-too-often silent issue. What’s more, The Allstate Foundation also challenged us to record-setting goals for the program: engage 2 million people, garner 1 billion earned media impressions and prepare Purple Purse for its biggest fundraising push to date.

The Strategy

To achieve the ambitious goals put forth by The Allstate Foundation, we needed to create a strategic shift for the brand. #FreeToWalk did just that, departing from past Purple Purse strategies. Abused women are often asked, “why don’t you just leave?” Often times they can’t because they are victims of financial abuse and do not have the resources to do so. #FreeToWalk put a laser focus on this all-too-prevalent and often silent issue of financial abuse, while highlighting Purple Purse’s solutions to end it. We positioned the issue at the center of all activity, including powerful content, traditional PR, and high-profile speaking opportunities. Across every tactic, we sought not only a surge in impressions, engagements, and dollars raised, but also a marked shift in the type of coverage and conversations around Purple Purse.

The Solution

In 2016, we launched #FreeToWalk: a year-long, cross-channel consumer awareness and fundraising campaign based on the idea that leaving an abusive relationship is rarely ever as simple as “just walking away.” Approximately 38.8 million have been or will be trapped in their homes and relationships by financial abuse – more women than the number currently incarcerated in American women’s prisons (roughly 206K). As a result, financial abuse has essentially created America’s largest women’s prison. This insight is the basis for “America’s Largest Prison Break,” an online film created by Leo Burnett and MSL Chicago, which launched our 2016 consumer awareness campaign and earned media efforts.

The film is based on the remarkable, true story of Lori, who secretly saved small amounts of money by adding cash back to her weekly grocery checks and rolling the bills into empty tampon applicators. We released the film in June through exclusive stories in People and The same day, program ambassador Kerry Washington spoke at the first United State of Women Summit, introducing the topic of financial empowerment and highlighting the work of Purple Purse on a national stage.

We then activated a long-lead media tour with seven major general consumer and women’s interest publications, featuring Allstate Senior Vice President Vicky Dinges, our film’s survivor Lori, and the President and CEO of The National Network to End Domestic Violence, Kim Gandy. In August, we revealed the 2016 Purple Purse handbag collection partners, which included Tory Burch and Aquatalia, and designs for a bag inspired by Kerry Washington through an exclusive by the Associated Press and a studio drop-by from Washington on “The Ellen Show.” The success of this announcement allowed the team to surpass our 2016 goal of 1 billion earned media impressions before even reaching October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and historically the campaign’s most impactful media moment.

In October, the organization launched the annual fundraising Purple Purse Challenge. On the first day, the program surpassed its historic day-one fundraising benchmark by more than double what was raised in 2015 and triple the 2014 first day fundraising. The month culminated with an official sponsorship of SHE Summit, a women’s empowerment conference, where Lori shared her story in an interview with Good Housekeeping’s Editor-in-Chief Jane Francisco, with an audience of 900+ attendees and 150K+ live stream viewers.

The Results

#FreeToWalk brought financial abuse to the spotlight and effectively repositioned Washington as a passionate ambassador and champion of financial empowerment. According to Allstate’s internal research, consumer awareness of the company’s involvement in the domestic violence issue jumped significantly in the months after the 2016 launch and is now at its highest level ever.

At the 2016 campaign’s end, #FreeToWalk had generated more than 1.57 billion media impressions, 6.2 million engagements and raised more funds than ever before. Beyond quantitative figures, the media narrative around Purple Purse was transformed by our cause-based storytelling, leading to rich placements in an impressive range of publications, from general consumer to trade to women’s and entertainment publications.

Media Coverage

Our efforts have led to rich placements that highlight the work of Allstate Foundation Purple Purse in an impressive range of publications, including, but not limited to People, Associated Press, CNN, InStyle, TIME, Women’s Health, Adweek, Mashable, Harper’s Bazaar, Yahoo News, the Huffington Post and many more.


Finalist at 2017 PRWeek Awards for Best for a Cause and Best Content; Publicity Club of Chicago, Golden Trumpet Winner for “Best Media Relations – Not-For-Profit”; PRSA Chicago Skyline Award Finalist in the “Media Relations, Consumer Services: Other” category

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Salterbaxter MSL Innovation Day 2017

12 Social Enterprises from the U.S. and U.K

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