Thursday, 17 November 2011

The awfulness of Benetton

Benetton, the clothing company, has been struggling of late. So they've gone back to  their horrible old formula to promote their brand - make shocking advertisements.

Their campaign is called "UNhate" - whatever that means. These are some of their abominations.

The last one elicited an irritated objection from the Vatican for the depiction of the Holy Father in this manner and that too for a commercial purpose. Benetton has reportedly withdrawn this ad.

Benetton is known for outrageous advertising in the past. I won't dignify their earlier indecencies with  reproducing those photographs. They have included a man dying of AIDS, a new born with its umbilical cord still connected to the mother, a soldier holding a human bone, and the like.

Sure, there is clutter in advertising and you need to break through it. But there must be a sense of decency in business, just as the same as in all walks of life.  Anything that is legally OK, is not OK. Making money by shocking people seems to be an awful way to earn a living.

But in a capitalist system, the consumer has the final say. If enough people are offended by such tactics, they simply will not buy the product. Benetton's sales are some € 2 bn, not too far from where they were a decade ago. Zara, a competitor, which does not advertise, sells € 12 bn. But alas, Benetton routinely wins advertising awards for "innovative" advertising.

Being a committed capitalist, I never thought I would utter the following words, but now I do - I heartily wish that Benetton would go bust. Moral bankruptcy is a prelude to financial bankruptcy.


  1. Of all things the last one definitely is too bad! Seriously Benetton needs to be boycotted just for the heck of this

  2. To be very honest, some of the Benetton ads I felt were truly brilliant.There was an ad way back showing a black woman's breast and a white baby suckling which so powerfully conveys the message that truly we're all just humans--and there is so much discrimination on basis of colour and underneath we're all just the same. I really liked that ad. Shocking? May be. Powerful? Yes!

    These ones that you have put up here, I merely found them amusing! :) (Maybe because I am creative and an artist and unconventional!) I did appreciate the creativity behind these pics. :)

    What I truly found sad and 'not done' in the Benetton ads was their using death row victims. (They had five feet high portraits of people who were found guilty of 1st degree murder). I found it objectionable because they are glorifying murderers and the campaign had nothing to do with morality of capital punishment.

    And I must confess-- whether or not benetton goes bankrupt,I do own a benetton jacket and it's really really comfy :P :D

  3. @Appu - As you will see from Preeti's comment, diferent people view this differently, but I am completely against such stuff.

    @Preeti - Appreciate your point of view. I come from the opposite spectrum, for alas, I am a bit stuffed up :) - actually I found the black woman, white baby offensive. It has nothing to do with their clothes. They care two hoots for any social message. They are just trying to catch the eye. Of course, both our opinions are equally valid !

    Can we see you clad in the Benetton jacket next time we meet :)

  4. Ramesh: The fact is they do convey powerful messages. Their advertising has always been 'image' driven..It first appeared as 'United colours of benetton' which showed people from all ethnicity wearing their clothes. Then there were images of multi racial kids, later replaced by images of multi racial couples kissing. There was a huge stir caused by the dying AIDS victim photo. It did make people sit up and shake them and make them THINK about AIDS and its harsh reality. The man who died--his family later clarified that they never felt used and in fact they felt 'heard'. Later Life magazine included this photo among '100 photos that changed the world'. The soldier holding the bone was not 'staged' or shot for the ad campaign but was from actual agency photos shot for newspapers.

    The baby with umbilical cord still attached--i found it amazing. This is LIFE, it is rawest form.

    The picture of the black woman breast feeding the white baby--I had put it up in my study way back during my college days :) Hence the connection and reason for two lengthy comments :)

    I used to be such an 'ad watcher' those days :) Even now the only section in eco times i read every word of is Brand Equity :)

    Most people I guess are shocked by images which are unconventional and hence uncomfortable.

    And from an artistic perspective some of their images are just 'WOW" .

    I agree all opinions are valid :)

  5. @Preeti - Thanks for a very insightful comment. Completely understand and respect your view. Perhaps at the end of the day, we should simply leave it to the consumer. If enough people like it, the brand will thrive. If not, it will die. This post has been considerably enhanced by your comments. Thanks.

  6. My first reaction to these images was - "what?". As a consumer, such images would not stir my penchant to buy a product or otherwise. Perhaps, I do not fall in that kind of consumer category. Having said that, disturbing and shocking ads do drive a negative impression. Just to add-on, one doesn't need to be too unconventional to produce such ads. Look at Fevicol or Vodafone ads.. amazing creativity... !

  7. Being "innovative" and winning "awards" does not give a brand to go with "mad" ads. In today's world, kids are exposed to media in a large way and it has an negative impact as well.

    Very low level of advertising campagign...

  8. @Vishal I guess comparing Vodafone/Fevicol ads to Benetton ads in terms of creativity is a bit like comparing Ken Follet to Nancy Friday :P :) (I do like Ken Follet a lot)

    And I would never buy a garment because of its ad or if my fav film star modelled for the ad! I would buy if the fabric is good, if the fit is good and if i like the style!

    @Ramesh: Maybe I should write a post about this on my blog :P :D

  9. Wonderful post and interesting comments. I agree with Preeti that Benetton ads are highly creative as they tend to focus on something other than their own products. Although some of their ads conveyed their brand message of "united colors" in non-controversial manner, but majority of their ads attracted objections as they were conflicting with the accepted society norms - be it the religious and political conflict (as portrayed in the Palestinian and the Israeli ad) or religious and sexual conflict (a priest kissing a nun) or reality conflicts (the image of a war cemetery during Gulf war followed by the image of a newborn baby still attached to the umbilical cord). All of these ads were highly creative and radical and, at times, you need radical approach to create awareness on public issues - for ex, the "balbir pasha" ad campaign did created an uproar back then, but it was successful in creating awareness among the masses most vulnerable to AIDS by connecting with them in their language. But profiting from these sensitive issues doesn't seem to be a good idea - I would certainly not endorse the view of creating a corporate brand awareness by using an image of a person dying of AIDS, though it did help create awareness on the public issue.

  10. @Vishal - Yes some people are repelled, but it appears any way to create brand salience, does really sell.

    @Preeti - Would love to see your post on this. I shall vigorously comment :):)

    @Tarun - Make no mistake. Benetton has zero interest in furthering any social causes unless it sold more clothes. This was just a brand strategy - partly why I am in vigorous opposition.

  11. @Connector - As you can see from the comments, there are always different views. I wouldn't worry too much about impact on kids - they see far worse these days.

  12. Spending money on such controversial ads and loading the price on consumer head. wow is it what marketing minds call as brand value!

  13. as much as i dislike the concept behind the ads..i am saddened by the responses of their udan pirapus and rathathin rathams. oru strike unda..oru kadaiyadaippu unda..bus mela kal ila auto two wheelera nadu roadla kolutharatho..ada..atleast posterla saani adichaachum intha leadersoda thondarselaam avanga protesta show case pannuvaanga paatha..hmmm.. politiciana poranthaalum..indiala porakanumnu summava solraanga

  14. @Venkat - Much as advertising seems like a frivulous expenditure, its a fundamental building block of business. My quarreel with Benetton is the distaste for the type of advertising they resort to.

    @gils - The udanpriappus and rathathin rathms did their own form of protest. They issued an bjection, said pip pip and toodleoo , etc etc. That did the trick, atleast as far as the pope is concerned.

  15. Do these ads catch your eye either for thier sheer genius and creativity, which I believe is the case in some of them, or for the sheer revulsion they generate - the answer is YES. Do they help sell more stuff - I have no idea. Once upon a time in India we had an ad of an young man and a woman locked in an embrace in thier birthday suits with just thier shoes on for a footwear ad. To date I can't remember the name of the company

  16. Ha ha...the debate of the UNhate vs HATE Benetton!

    Thank God they have withdrawn the Pope smacking the Imam one atleast.

    While creative, unconventional ADs are perfectly OK to create a Brand recall, these obscene ones are not acceptable at all. How repulsive to see huge hoardings of these ADs.

    There is always a line to be drawn and Benetton seems to have crossed it.

    I am wondering why can't any or all these people shown in the ADs sew them for potraying them in public with screwed up digitised pictures of theirs?

    Yuk!Yuk!Yuk!to Benetton ADs.
    I like their stuff though...:)

  17. @kiwi - Well said. You summed it up perfectly

    @Hema - Share your distate for the ads. Btw try Zara as an alternate clothes brand.

  18. when i read your version, i thought, i agree with you. but when i read Preeti's version, i then re-thought. and i agree with her. but then, i am amazed at how blessed I am to be on a platform that hosts such brilliant minds and passionate hearts. I have been reading this hate unhate campaign in the newspapers. neither did i think the way you thought, nor could i think the way Preeti thought. Gently passing the fact that i of course dont belong in this elite list but for your kindness, i now decided to give my small perspective here.

    There is a difference between doing something that is shocking just to break clutter vs doing something shocking to break clutter and at the same time, creating an awareness for a social cause. I personally didnt like this Unhate campaign because it is going slightly overboard, i still vouch their concept. Having said that, would i buy a benetton jacket even if i liked the unhate campaign, maybe not. but if the jacket is good, i would still buy it. Maybe the Unhate campaign would make me check Benetton also out the next time i go hunting for one.

  19. Actually I am all for artists' freedom. So I do agree to Preeti's point of view. But these images are definitely not creative,, these are downright cheeky. If someone indeed wanted to depict the message of 'unhating', hugs would have been more appropriate. These ones are definitely not meant for sending across any message!

  20. @Sandhya - Here's wishing that you find a wonderful Benetton jacket and a wonderful Zara jacket as a tribute to your always balanced and sane point of view.

    @Deepa - Now thats a simple crisp way to say it. A hug, better than a kiss. Bravo.

  21. Next best thing to reading the blog is to read the comments of "gils". machi ni nalla sollare. oru samaiyam neenga election-la nikka porengla, illaina sinima-la vasanam ezhutha muyarchi seyyarengala?

  22. @Ravi - Amen. Totally agree with you on Gils. Gils rocks.

  23. @ravi saar:

    neither..armchair commentators sangathoda future presidenta venaa try pannalamnu iruken :D

  24. The word unhate (if it is really a word) is not at all conveyed in the pictures...a man kissing a man pops the word "gay" to your mind sooner than their race...awful advertising...that explains their sales...

  25. @Rads - I wasn't tickled too; but as you can see from the previous comments, there are many different opinions.

  26. So, I am way, way late to this party because Ramesh's invitation to me was delayed in the mail :)

    Ramesh drew me into this post and, thereby, reading the comments also, through his response to my blog post ...

    I am with Preeti Shenoy on this one. With one difference: I have never, ever owned anything with a Benetton tag. It is not because I am in some kind of a boycott Benetton mode--I like many of their products but simply cannot afford their prices :)

    I am particularly intrigued that many commenters echoing Ramesh regarding the poster with the pope--that somehow this is more reprehensible than the other images. Seriously? All because of the religious figure here as opposed to political figures in the rest?

    I am not an artist by any means, and people who know how much art-challenged I am. But, I find some images to challenge the way I view the world versus others that don't. It is a similar reaction to what I felt when I saw this photo, that I blogged about.

    Again, I have no interest whatsoever in whether Benetton earns money or goes bankrupt. That is truly irrelevant intellectually and personally. But, what intrigues me, to the point of mildly worrying about it, is the feeling that we might be way too eager, almost as a reflex move, to constrain the world to whatever moral standards we might hold very dear.

    I would even make an argument here that such castigation of Benetton's ad is not that far removed from an al Qaeda approach to declaring jihad on anything that they consider immoral ... it is in that same continuum ....

    I am not sure if this comment will end up alerting only Ramesh (as the blog owner) or whether all the commenters also will get an email that a crazy guy has dropped off a few lines .... will be neat to hear from Ramesh and everybody else ...

    So, there .... :)

  27. @Sriram - Oh I wish I had got your comment at the time of the post. Readers would have weighed in with a lively debate. But most move on and even an insightful comment on an old post would go unnoticed.

    I love the way we are different. In fact I would use almost every point in your comment in the opposite way. But the joy of blogging is not arguing, but to reflect on different views and challenge your own view. This is what I will do by reflecting on views that you have eloquently expressed. Wonderful; I am delighted that you comment on my blogs.


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