Did it integrate opposites, has it united differences under a common flag, did it break down barriers or has it sparked controversies? Be it the white girl with blonde curly hair and an African American girl embracing each other or an attempt to fight world hunger or pulsing hearts of three different races, United Colors of Benetton has defined a new era of fearless and provocative ads.
Italian art director and photographer Oliviero Toscani is credited with creating Benetton’s daring advertising campaigns. Breaking the age-old advertising tricks, Benetton has always pushed sensitive subjects and challenged realities.
‘All the colors of the world' was the first slogan that appeared; it was later replaced by the famous ‘United Colors of Benetton’, which became the actual logo. By 1984, Toscani's work started creating buzz with ‘All the Colors of the World’ campaign that focussed on young people of multicultural groups wearing the brand’s apparels. A political alignment with consumers rather than just talking about the style and colours has helped in creating a movement against various social taboos.
Showcasing the message of unity in 1991, the brand portrayed one figure from three different continents warmed by a single blanket. The ad looked like a family portrait and gave the message of spreading love between people of different races. In order to fight world hunger in 1997, the brand used one of the most astonishing images to depict how hunger can consume human body. The most controversial ad was the ‘Death Row’ campaign that aimed at drawing attention to the controversy around capital punishment in the US. Convicted criminals were used as models and the photos were stamped with the words ‘Sentenced to Death’ and ‘We, on Death Row’.
Right from bravely using HIV AIDS to the colourful mix of condoms and the Cold War campaign with a photo of two black children kissing and wrapped in different flags, the brand doesn’t shy away from sparking debates.
The iconic image of an umbilical cord still intact to a baby and featuring a real AIDS patient on his deathbed was an unusual sight in the advertising space. To some it appeared distasteful and insensitive but it generated awareness about the disease and number of infant deaths.
Raising the bar of controversies again, Benetton recently launched the ‘Unhate’ campaign featuring religious leaders, prime ministers, presidents kissing each other as an attempt to foster global love and creation of a new culture of tolerance.
The campaign also took the Lion Grand Prix in Press; however, Benetton had to withdraw the photograph featuring Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian imam. The campaign generated more than 500 million hits and was among the top trending topics on Twitter.
The ‘Unhate’ campaign was followed by the launch of ‘The unemployee of the year’ communication campaign, set up under the aegis of the UNHATE Foundation, that seeks to challenge clichés about youth non-employment and asserts a belief in the creativity of the world’s youth. The campaign aimed to support youth to become actors of change against indifference and stigma. Young non-employed people, between the ages of 18 and 30, were invited to submit outlines of projects to be supported and the 100 most deserving projects received support from the UNHATE Foundation to turn these projects into reality.
UCB campaigns have been bold and the brand has been able to spread awareness. Some call it marketing brilliance while others blame the brand for sparking controversies; however, the ads have given the brand an edgy image and helped in creating a dialogue in the society. We await what comes next!