zondag 31 oktober 2010

BenetTONS (of) INSPIRATION - final paper

‘Probably the most widely publicized cases of shock advertisements include the advertising campaigns produced by clothing makers Benetton and Calvin Klein'
(Dahl, et al., 2003, p. 268)

‘Corporate identity maps corporate ethos, consisting of core attributes, strategies and values’ (Borgerson, Schroeder, Magnussen & Magnussen, 2009, p. 209). A reocurring concept in corporate identity is ‘consistency’ (Cheney et al., 2010; Borgerson et al.; 2009). In Cheney et al. (2010), this consistency is linked to monolithic identity in which an organization follows one visual style, and uses one name consistently (p. 136). Furthermore it is important that the organization communicates consistently ‘across different audiences and different media’ (Cheney et al., 2010, p. 126). However, we need to keep in mind that different audiences will interpret messages differently than it was intended to do. Therefore reshaping, adapting and modifying the message to their personal use (Cheney et al., 2010, p. 127).

                Corporate identity differs from organizational identity for the fact that corporate identity is primarily focused on the visual style, and with it, the message that is communicated to the outer world (Hatch & Schultz, 1997, p. 356). But the question is - how do you portray your corporate ethos to the outside world? How to visualize this message? But more importantly, how to stand out in the crowd?

A good example of corporate identity is United Colors of Benetton. The Benetton group, which is established in 1965, is currently present in 120 countries around the world. This global brand, which is mostly known for its clothes, has an international style that combines color, quality and fashion. Although, of course, not everybody wears the clothes of Benetton, a lot of people do know the famous advertisements of the brand. In 1989, the first Benetton communication campaign was launched.‘Black woman breastfeeding white baby’ was the first advertisement that was published. This advertisement, as the title already reveals, shows us a naked black woman who is breastfeeding a white baby. Other famous advertisements of the first communication campaign of Benetton are ‘Handcuffs´, were we can see two male hands, one black, one white handcuffed together and ‘Blanket’, were a black woman and a white woman sitting naked underneath a blanket, holding a Asian baby.

                Most advertisements of Benetton mark(ed) the concept of equality, and more specific equality between black and white and caused a strong reaction in the US, especially in the black community. These advertisements ´shocked´ the audience. Of course, there is not just one reason why some people where shocked to see this advertisement, it is impossible to know how every individual reacts on this advertisement. Some could be shocked because a naked body is shown, something that not all people find appropriate to see. Secondly, because the advertisement suggests that a black woman adopted a white baby. Some people would have thought that adopting children is not ok because of there religion and other would find it shocking because you rarely see a black woman with a white child. Others could find it shocking because it suggests that the black woman is nurturing a child of a white mother, and has the role of being a slave.

                Benetton’s latest campaign is IT’S MY TIME, where the web is used as a global meeting place. The ITS’S MY TIME multimedia communication campaign, which is the first global online casting session, have chosen faces from around the world for the Fall/Winter product campaign. It is a project open to the world and its young people, ‘in perfect Benetton tradition’ (United Colors of Benetton, 2010). 

Benetton is a brand that operates in the fashion world. In this world, a lot of players are on board and competition is heavy. Corporate identity demands the organization to state why and how they are different from their competitors and ‘define the distinctive values and attributes of their organization’ (Borgerson et al., 2009, p.211) Therefore it is necessary to stand out in the crowd. Aesthetics in, for example, media campaigns are great ways to achieve this. With it, ‘elevating an image for the company and its products’ (Schmitt, Simonson & Marcus, 1995, p. 83). Attractive aesthetics enhances the impact of marketing communications; it cuts through information clutters and achieves greater impact with fewer exposures (Schmitt, Simonson & Marcus, 1995, p. 82).

                Benetton tries to stand out in the crowd by making advertisements that are controversial and ‘shocking’.
The advertisement of ‘Black woman breastfeeding a white baby’  ‘deliberately, rather than inadvertently, startles and offends its audience’ (Dahl et al., 2003, p. 268). The advertisements of Benetton purposely breach social norms, with the intent to shock the audience.  By doing this, Benetton tries to portray their corporate ethos, being equality and uniqueness. To keep this monolithic identity, Benetton follows one visual style, publishing advertisements that repeatedly focused on these to concepts ‘equality and uniqueness’.

                The latest IT’s MY TIME campaign especially highlights personal styles and the desire to be unique, by showing faces from around the world, and the casting being open for people all around the world. The organization also communicates ‘across different audiences and different media’ (Cheney et al., 2010, p. 126), by publishing advertisements which appeal to different people, for example the ‘black and white’ campaign which is mentioned above, the campaign against AIDS and the  campaign against the war in Bosnia. The organization also communicates through different media, using poster advertisements, commercials on television, billboards and the web.



Borgerson, J.L.,  Schroeder, J.E., Magnussen, M. E., Magnussen, F. (2009). Corporate communication, ethics and operational identity: a case study of Benetton. Business Ethics: a European Review, 8(3), 209-223.

Cheney, G., Christensen, L. T., Zorn Jr., T. E., & Ganesh, S. (2010). Organizational Communication in an Age of Globalization: Issues, Reflections, Practices (2nd Ed.). Waveland Press: Long Grove, IL.

Dahl, D. W., Frankenberger, K.D., Manchanda, R.V. (2003). Does It Pay to Shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students. Journal of Advertising Research, 268-280.
Hatch, M.J., Schultz, M. (1997). Relations between organizational culture, identity and image. European Journal of Marketing, 31(5), 356-365.

Schmitt, B.H., Simonson, A., Marcus, J. (1995). Managing Corporate Image and Identity. Elsevier Science, 28(5), 82-92.

United Colors of Benetton (2010). Press Benetton Group. Retrieved, 29 of October, 2010, from http://press.benettongroup.com/ben_en/

Branded by Society

February 1992 - AIDS - David Kirby
In 1992 UCB launched its first campaign on the HIV-virus. Here you can see a man dying of AIDS, surrounded by his family. UCB mentions that this is a way to denounce the dangers of AIDS and a means of continuing the battle against this terrible disease after the death.

Interesting is that UCB had the permission of David Kirby's father to publish this picture. Still, this picture was haunted by critics back then. In as well as Germany as The Netherlands, this advertisement was found to be illegal. According to a public poll in The Netherlands, 75 % of the people interviewed qualified the advertisement as 'bad' or 'very bad' (Brandstaetter, 1997).

September 1993 - HIV Positive

These three photographs - an arm, a lower abdomen and a bottom marked with the letters H.I.V. - are used as metaphors for the more extensive branding practised throughout society towards those that are different. This campaign was also under heavy criticism, as can be read in the following news article.

Nine face trial over Benetton protest: Case revives dispute over HIV imagery in adverts
HEATHER MILLS, Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday, 17 January 1994
THE CONTROVERSY surrounding Benetton's advertising campaigns will be reopened today when nine people go on trial following a protest at the Italian clothing company's London headquarters in September last year.
The eight men and one woman were demonstrating against what they claimed was the use of 'exploitative HIV imagery' to launch Benetton's 1993 autumn and winter collection.
The advertising campaign consisted of a series of three photographs featuring different parts of the body - an arm, a lower abdomen and a bottom - each branded with the words 'HIV Positive'.
Like some of Benetton's other campaigns - the bloodsmeared new-born baby, the white angel and black devil children, a man dying of Aids and most recently a seabird covered in oil - it provoked complaints in this country and abroad. In France a man with Aids launched his own counter poster campaign, with an image of his own gaunt face and the caption: 'During the agony, the sale continues.'
Benetton, which has always defended its campaigns as attempts to raise political and social awareness, claims that the HIV-positive images are 'complex metaphors for the more extensive branding practised throughout society'.
The protesters disagreed. Waving posters and chanting slogans at Benetton's offices, they claimed the image pandered to hostility and prejudice against people living with the virus.
Outrage, the gay and lesbian group which organised the protest with Act Up - the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power - said yesterday there had been a series of recent gay-bashing incidents in which people had been beaten by attackers shouting: 'Where's your tattoo, queer?'
The nine were arrested after police were called to Benetton's offices. All face charges of threatening behaviour under the Public Order Act and two are accused of assaulting police. They deny all the charges.
Chris Tyler of Outrage said: 'With the trial, Benetton are once again attempting to silence the legitimate concerns of the communities affected by HIV and Aids. They are exploiting the suffering of people living with Aids as promotion for knitwear.'
(The Independent, 1994)


Brandstaetter, J. (1997). The Benetton Campaign. Retrieved on October 30, 2010, from http://www.fdblawyers.com/library/articles/benetton-campaign.html

Mills, H. (1994, January 17). Nine face trial over Benetton protest: Case revives dispute over HIV imagery in adverts. The Independent UK.

United Colors of Benetton (2010). About Benetton - Our Campaigns. Retrieved on October 31, 2010, from http://press.benettongroup.com/ben_en/about/campaigns/list/

zaterdag 30 oktober 2010

Marketing through censorship

Benetton Ad's Opponents Fail

Published: October 19, 1991
PARIS, Oct. 18 — A court today rejected a complaint demanding that the Italian clothing maker Benetton withdraw up to 1,300 billboard advertisements showing a priest kissing a nun.
A Roman Catholic citizens group said in the complaint that the depiction of a collar- wearing priest kissing a nun in full habit on the mouth was "a particularly serious offense to Catholics."
The Advertising Verification Office, an ad industry watchdog group, also criticized the poster, saying it "went against generally accepted beliefs." The office is not empowered to ban the poster, but can recommend its removal.
The court ruled the advertisement did not constitute an act that could be characterized as anti-Christian.
Benetton declined comment on the complaints about the ad campaign, which is scheduled to conclude Monday.

(New York Times, 1991)
September 1991 - Priest and Nun. Guess what advertisement this news article is about. Yes indeed, our blog background. We thought that this would be one of the most controversial advertisements in the campaign history of UCB, therefore putting it on the background. For many catholic people, this campaign had affected their religious feelings and therefore they saw it as an offensive advertisement. Especially in Italy, a catholic country. It is no surprise that this advertisement was found to be illegal and therefore not shown in Italy (Brandstaetter,1997).
As stated in the news article, court ruled that the advertisement did not constitute an act that could be characterized as anti-Christian. However, UCB still withdrew this advertisement from many billboards. Just as some other advertisement campaigns.

September 1991 - Newborn Baby
Both advertisements from 1991 was an attempt of UCB to feature images from the real world that have some social or universal relevance, in order to break through the barrier of indifference which often surrounds these issues.
This billboard advertisement was also pulled out, after heavy public protests from France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

However, we consider the voluntary removal of these billboard advertisements as part of UCB's marketing strategy. By removing they got even more media attention - free advertisement - and they made the mass aware of the excistence of censorship. Although their advertisements were not officially banned, UCB still created a sense of censorship with as their final goal to emphasize that advertisements are like artworks.


Brandstaetter, J. (1997). Marketing of Benetton. Retrieved on October 30, 2010, from http://www.fdblawyers.com/library/articles/benetton-campaign.html

The New York Times (1991, October 19). Benetton Ad's Opponent Fail. Retrieved on October 30, 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/19/business/benetton-ad-s-opponents-fail.html

United Colors of Benetton (2010). About Benetton - Our Campaigns. Retrieved on October 30, 2010, from http://press.benettongroup.com/ben_en/about/campaigns/list/

Common values through Controversy

The advertising philosophy of United Colors of Benetton is based on Luciano Benetton's belief that 'communication should not be commissioned from outside the company, but conceived from within its heart.'
From that assumption stems the advertising strategy of a brand that has aimed, for over 20 years, to create “value” by capitalizing on an image.
A company that emphasizes value and chooses to create value is no longer communicating with the consumer but with the individual.
Actual consumption is repositioned within the overall context of life. By entering the universe of values, the brand frees the product from the world of merchandise and manufacturing and makes it a social being of its own. By addressing an individual rather than a customer, the brand can identify its target on the basis not of age or income, but of a shared vision of what is important, starting from a set of common values.
(United Colors of Benetton, 2010)
That set of common values, is illustrated in their famous controversial advertisement campaigns. By addressing issues that exist in the real world, but are still considered as taboo, UCB tries to break this circle or to raise awareness among their audience. Their slogan ‘United Colors of Benetton’ is so strong, that it even became their brand name. Their message behind their brand name can be taken literally – to unite individuals from all over the world no matter where you come from, no matter your skin color. Many campaigns address issues involving race through different skin colors. Other campaigns adress taboo-issues involving HIV, religion or war.

Especially in their early campaigns in the 90's, UCB tries to create a circle of trust and tolerance by unifying black, white and yellow races together. The following campaigns illustrate the 'united colors'.
September 1989 - Campaign for Equality 'Handcuffs' and 'Black woman breastfeeding white baby'
These two advertisements were the first controversial campaigns by UCB. Both have caused a strong reaction of the black community in the United States of America. The 'Black woman breastfeedin white baby' is the most awarded advertisement in Benetton's campaign history and probably also the most remembered one.

February 1991 - Tongues
Following UCB's explanation of this advertisement campaign - this picture of three children (black, white and asian) sticking out their tongues is a good instance of how a universal theme sometimes encounters unforeseen cultural barriers.
In Arab countries, this advertisement was withdrawn from dislay as it contained 'pornographic' elements - display of an internal organ is prohibited.

March 1996 - Hearts

In 1996 UCB launched the anti-racism campaign 'Hearts'. This anti-racism message emphasizes that from the inside we all look the same, our hearts are the same although we might look different on the outside. This campaign was launched by UCB in conjuction with SOS Racism.

UCB has many more advertisement campaigns that adress equality of all races. Not all advertisements of UCB regarding to race are enpictured as explicitely as the last three one are. Another campaign that also has 'equality' as its message is February 1991's Graveyard. On this advertisement you can see a World War I cemetery in France. This campaign is a reminder for all people that in war nobody wins - beyond uniforms, race and religion - death is the only victory.


United Colors of Benetton (2010). About Benetton - Our Campaigns. Retrieved on October 30, 2010, from http://press.benettongroup.com/ben_en/about/campaigns/list/

United Colors of Benetton (2010). Our Campaigns. Retrieved on October 30, 2010, from http://press.benettongroup.com/ben_en/about/campaigns/history/