Wednesday, 11 April 2012

United Colors of Benneton - A brief look (Exercise 6)

The United Colors of Benetton is one company that can be proud of redefining how we look at a brand. Their controversial advertising campaigns have been stirring people's emotions for several decades, some praise the company for their portrayal of diversity and integration within any cultural group on the planet (which was and is one of their aims). Oliviero Toscani, the designer and photographer behind the campaigns has been praised for his ability to merge the problems we face as a species into one understandable package. He was also the lead designer of a quarterly magazine publication appropriately named Colors prior to losing his tenure over the controversy caused by his 'We on Death Row' 2000 campaigns. Sponsored by Benetton, Colors  focuses on worldwide humanitarian issues such as AIDS, hunger and poverty. Toscani is known for his use of models of varying ethnicities as well as contrasting elements.

Such as this: 

His photographs not only include various ethnic groups but are also representative of the hardships we face as the human race. Issues such as racism and cultural suppression are the underlying messages. The United Colors of Benetton have found a way to shift associations. Anyone who is not familiar with Benetton will most likely make an assumption that the ad campaigns are not related to sweaters and clothing in any way, which in turn deconstructs the message. The message in the campaigns they way I see it really isn't about the clothing or the business end, it's about what the brand represents, which is no longer about clothing.

Here is a visual timeline of some of the more controversial  campaigns:

This one is by far one of the most memorable campaigns that really stood out from the rest. The clarity of the message is pretty much unparalleled and this image has caused much debate about multiracial issues. Even though a strong contrast between black and white people is used I think it was necessary to get the message across as the type of thinking can be applied to any two contrasting races.


White Angel, Black Devil

Yet another controversial image this time being a more blatant jab at the way we have separated our physical and cultural differences. Having recently studied a little bit about African and South African movements this image is perhaps more relevant to knowledge I have, however it's clear from the image that racial separation is the message and even though the children have physical differences they are embraced in a hug, reinforcing togetherness.


The "not so different" hearts, showing the human heart in it's raw form (a staple element in Toscani's photography) The message ultimately is that our blood and internals are all the same, why should we judge each other based on race or place when the things that make us work as humans are more identical to each other than our outward appearances. The drop shadows look pretty horrible though(from an aesthetic viewpoint of a designer)


The campaign that would end Toscani's reign over Colors  and Benetton featured 26 interviews and photographs of inmates on death row. Victims rights groups were outraged and several store franchises refused to stock Benetton products.

In conclusion - I personally believe that 'controversial' might have been the wrong word to use to describe what Benneton was trying to achieve. I think the word they were looking for was 'real' . Yes at the end of the day Benetton is a clothing company, and they want to make a profit, and whether Toscani created these to generate hype and publicity for the company or not the reality is that all the messages pertain to very real things that happen all over the world. The media is responsible for the context in which these messages are conveyed and it almost always portrays them in a negative light, not a realistic one.

"People just refuse to be realistic, they'd rather stroke themselves" - George Carlin


 Executive insights: United Colors of Benetton- From Sweaters to Success: An Examination of the Triumphs and Controversies of a Multinational Company. Journal of International Marketing Vol. 11 No. 4, 2003, pp. 113-128

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