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Shock & Sell

Has Benetton’s shock tactics changed the world of advertising for the better? 1965 saw Luciano Benetton explode into the world of fashion with his colourful vibrant line of clothes and the Benetton Group. Seventeen years later in 1982 saw this luxury fashion brand change the world of advertising forever, when they asked photographer Oliveiro Toscani to head their advertising and given carte blanche on their campaign.

David Kirby, this was met with a wave of complaints. If you really look at this image it is simply a glimpse into the grief that we will all feel in our lives, as his father embraces him as he takes his

dying breath. This image caused an outcry but was in fact authorized by David Kirby himself. That fact is This lead to some of the most controversial that he is dying of AIDs is irrelevant, when seen in the context that this man’s last moments are being used to images ever to put it bluntly sell clothes, it seems wrong to use such an appear on billboards images, however if you look more deeply shocking as it worldwide and saw the birth of the United is, it can also be interpreted as man who has fought to raise awareness of AID’s giving his last breath to cement Colors advertising his lifes work. So in this instance the shock factor was campaign, which justified but that is not always the case. has been cited With the release of they autumn-winter 1991 as “The world’s campaign once again Benetton were at the centre of yet most controversial more controversy. By releasing an image of two children, advertising campaign by reference book Guinness World the first being a white child being depicted as angelic Records 2000. No subjects seemed to taboo for Toscani and the second being a black child with hair styled into and indeed Benetton, with images of AID’s activist David to horns give a demonic impression of this child. Some Kirby on his deathbed dying of AID’s, a new born baby believe this to be a more offensive photograph than covered in blood with the umbilical cord still attached and the previous, simply because other than to draw the the most recent in which a number of opposing world consumers attention it really has not significance in a leaders Pope Benedict XVI kissing Ahmed Mohamed el wider sense and is primarily a shock to sell tactic. This Tayeb, the imam of the Al Azhar mosque in Egypt are is also the case with other images from this collection depicted kissing, to name but a few. shown earlier of the new born baby and an image of a With the success of these campaigns, nun and priest sharing a passionate kiss, both to have advertisers have been inspired to push themselves to no other purpose but to shock and sell by pushing the the limits and see if shock does in fact sell? So the real limits with subjects today’s society considers taboo. question is, does the fact that we are exposed to images Possibly the most controversial campaign like this so much in the world of advertising, are be desensitised to them and by that the suffering of others? ever ran by Benetton was the 2000 series of images entitled Death Row, in which it depicts 26 murderers First of all we look back the picture released of

on death row in the united states. With a great number of complaints from pro-death penalty groups, accusing Benetton of humanizing these criminals and causing unnecessary pain and suffering for the families of the victims of these men. When asked about this campaign Benetton USA Executive Vice President Carlo Tunioli simply said  “There’s no correlation between these guys and our sweaters.  In terms of an advertising strategy, what we are really doing is building brand awareness.” This time their shock tactics backfired and they donated $50,000 to the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation fund. Further more top US department store Sears cancelled their contract with Benetton after pressure from the victims support groups. So it seems that shock advertising can go to far, but as I always say there is no such thing as bad publicity and this campaign getting so much negative attention from press meant it was on every news channel world wide, so you’ve got to think what ever the reaction shocking images get the job done. Over the past few year a number of companies have tried to use shock adverting, taking inspiration from the work of Oliveiro Toscani and Benetton. But sometimes they seem to be to obvious with their attempts. Take for example the obvious sexual innuendo in a recent advert for music channel TMF depicting recently deceased singer Amy Winehouse as a sheep having sex with a sheepdog, this is a prime example of how Benetton have pushed the boundaries so far

that now no subject seems to be to taboo to exploit for no other purpose but to sell. As with everything there are two sides to the story and the use of shock tactics can be used in a positive way. As seen in a recent series of adverts using bruised and battered celebrities with horrific injuries depicting the dangers of domestic violence to raise awareness of the subject. This use of shock tactics similar to the photograph of David Kirby used by Benetton isn’t simply just using shock to sell a product but an idea. When asking the question, Has Benetton’s shock tactics changed the world of advesting for the better? We must consider that yes getting your product recognised is the most important thing, so advertisers must push the boundaries and Benetton have shown them how to do this, sometimes by using something harrowing to grab the public’s attention. This can seem wrong to sell a simple product such as a new car or a the latest fashion line, but if we look at it on a greater scale of using these tactics to sell an idea that could change the world for the better. I believe that Benetton have made the world of advertising better, simply because they have shown that shock can sell clothes, so why can’t it sell an ideal of a better world and tackle problems just as child labour, domestic violence, deforestation to name but a few. So from a public who would be largely ill informed about the problems facing this world if not for the photographs and films that shock us into change. Thank you Oliveiro Toscani and Benetton for showing us all that shock does in fact sell!


Benetton Case Study