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27 September 2012

Benetton: provocative or socially engaging?

   



The Italian Fashion brand Benetton has always made waves around the world for its provocative and shocking advertising campaigns. Its most well known campaigns include ‘Food for Life’, ‘La Pieta’ and the UNHATE campaign. However, Benetton claims to be changing tact and wants the brand to become more socially engaging, rather than shocking.

Benetton’s new campaign, called ‘Unemployee of the Year’, raises the issue of youth unemployment. It consists of a short film, a printed ad and a contest for young people to present a project in support of local communities, and the winning entries will receive funding from Benetton.

 

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The fashion retailer has said the latest campaign marks an effort to engage with the issues affecting young people across the world, rather than just creating an ad to draw attention to the issue.

The brand has a history of being provocative with its advertising campaigns and making bold political statements, we take a look at the last 20 years of the fashion house and its penchant for causing controversy.

In 1991 Benetton caused a stir with the, now infamous, ‘Pieta’ campaign, shedding light on the reality of AIDS. A photo of the AIDS activist David Kirby in his hospital bed was used in a Benetton print ad, in association with the AIDS Foundation.

Some AIDS activists at the time felt the ad was showing AIDS victims in a negative light. The ad was generally badly received but Benetton defended the campaign and subsequently went on to cause controversy with almost every ad it produced while trying to flog its colourful jumpers.

In 2000 Benetton launched what is considered one of its most controversial campaigns ever. Called ‘We, On Death Row’, the campaign featured interviews and photographs of real death row inmates and was published all over the world in magazines, on billboards, and in a 90 page supplement.  It triggered a huge response worldwide and one that was overwhelmingly negative; several victims’ rights groups thought it was disgusting, the state of Missouri sued Benetton for fraud when interviewing the inmates and US retailer Sears chose not to stock Benetton products.

Benetton’s 2003 communications strategy focused on the issue of world hunger. The company worked with the World Food Programme, the United Nations frontline agency to re-establish the issue as the world’s biggest problem. The Food for Life campaign’s main image was of a man with a mutilated arm, whose metal prosthesis is a spoon. Other images featured in magazines and on billboards across the world and included true, individual stories of women, men and children who needed to find food to escape poverty.

Last year Benetton unveiled the UNHATE kiss campaign, which Alessandro Benetton , Chairman of the Benetton Group, has been reported to say was inspired by the famous embrace between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker caught on camera in 1973. The UNHATE kiss campaign featured a series of posters featuring political and religious leaders kissing and a short film was produced by director Laurent Chanez which showed scenes of people both fighting and embracing in various situations all over the world. The UNHATE campaign was produced by Fabrica, the Benetton Communication Research Centre, in cooperation with agency 72andSunny, and was intended to promote a new way of looking at hatred.

 

The campaign also used social media to promote the UNHATE values, by creating a ‘Kiss Wall’ on Facebook where users could upload photos of themselves kissing.

It included several memorable images showing Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Pope Benedict XVI kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb. The Vatican and the Pope were up in arms and got the campaign banned.  Benetton removed the image featuring the Pope from the campaign.

The new  ‘Unemployee of the Year’ campaign is the next instalment of Benetton’s UNHATE project and marks a departure from the shock tactics we are so used to seeing from the brand. Benetton wants the ‘Unemployee of the Year’ campaign, not only to raise awareness for the cause but, to use the campaign’s contest to  actually help unemployed young people and prove the brand can be socially engaging without being provocative.

 

For the ‘Unemployee of the Year’ contest, Benetton is calling on unemployed adults between the ages of 18 and 30. Entrants are invited to submit outlines of project ideas that have the power to create a social impact in their community.

The outlines for projects can be submitted to the UNHate Foundation website and will be voted for by the online community. The 100 “most deserving projects” will receive €5,000 ($6,600) to fund the project and campaign support from the UNHate Foundation to bring their projects to fruition. The contest is taking place from September 18 to October 14, 2012.

The ‘Unemployee of the Year’ project runs globally, both in print, virally and using social media. The goal of the campaign is celebrate the ability of today’s young people to find new, creative ways of dealing with the issue of unemployment and come up with their own unique solution.

Supported by the UNHATE foundation, the ‘Unemployee of the Year’ campaign is the latest step in Benetton’s corporate responsibility strategy and a step the brand hopes will make a real impact in the international community and encourage other companies to do the same. 

   



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