They are campaigning for equality. They want people to remember that when it comes down to it, we are all human beings, and that there is no need for hate amongst us. Benetton has made a bold move in the advertising industry and should at least be commended for trying to do something that is very unorthodox. But of course, not everyone sees their campaign towards progressing humanity in the same way. Many believe that “Benetton is trying, through its depiction of the intense suffering of living things, to evoke a feeling of compassion on the part of the consumer, and to suggest that it is sympathetic”.
Controversy has erupted due to its numerous ads. Some people have seen Benetton’s advertisements and have been outraged but have not taken action, while others have been more active in taking a stand and ensuring Benetton stops publishing their immoral ads. A few ads in particular have stricken a chord with many of Benetton’s opponents. Opponents of Benetton’s ads have been angered with Benetton for exploiting human suffering. A few advertisements that have gained recognition for their degree of controversy are “pictures of a waterfowl stuck in an oil slick, a human body stamped ‘HIV-positive and child labourers in the Third World–all bearing the slogan, ‘United Colors of Benetton'”.
A few other ads that have sparked controversy include pictures of a patient dying of AIDS in front of his family, and a “dead Croatian soldier’s blood-soaked uniform”ix. Benetton’s critics maintain that showing pictures of people diagnosed and dying of AIDS “strips HIV-positive people of their dignity”x. Benetton’s opponents argue the fact that the exploitation of human suffering in their advertisements represents unfair competition. And that it is immoral to sell clothes by pretending to be kind-hearted and compassionate towards the issues they are promoting. But Benetton fully believes in their campaigns that are ridiculed on a daily basis. They preserve the fact that these are real life images, situations, and dilemmas that are plaguing the earth at this very moment. Their cause is aimed at opening people’s minds and changing the way we think.
“It’s always intrigued me why fake has been accepted and reality has been rejected. At Benetton, we are trying to create an awareness of issues. AIDS is one of today’s major modern problems in the world, so I think we have to show something about it”. Benetton is faced with these controversial struggles each and every day. The problem they face is not the fact that they are advertising for humanitarianism; instead it is the fact that they are a clothing company advertising for humanitarianism.
The main goal of a clothing company, without a doubt, is to make profit. The question is whether Benetton is using their status as a large clothing company only for profits? Or whether they are doing a double duty by using their high status in the clothing industry to display an urgent message to the world – a message of peace, multiculturalism, and love. While at the same time striving for a profit. It is like a stand by Hollywood actors, who use their fame and notoriety to advocate against war. Are their feelings towards war one-hundred percent real? Or are they putting up a fake image towards the public to enhance their appearance?
Benetton’s integrity comes into question because they are a clothing company instead of an advocate for AIDS victims. This is what is at stake when companies use humanitarian advertising even though they do not belong in that category. They are questioned time and time again about their true methods for achieving a profit. Do they really have a concern for human welfare? Or are they acting as though they care to promote controversy and create a shock factor that will stay in people’s minds, in hopes of a greater profit?
Unfortunately, only Benetton and their owners know how they truly feel about this subject. While others think that Benetton has gone too far, Benetton believes that their advertisements are for a greater purpose. Personally, I do not think Benetton has crossed any lines. We are living in a time of free speech and they are exercising that right. Advertising could go too far if someone was promoting violence and hatred. But Benetton is doing the opposite. Benetton hopes that their pictures might inspire someone to donate money, volunteer, or become a peace activist. People in their ads are normal people, not models or celebrities. In shows the world and reality as it is.
“When journalists focus on strange and serious topics, nobody criticizes them for trying to sell their stories to the media. Yet, when an advertisement touches on a real problem, everybody is immediately up in arms and protests that it’s in bad taste. It seems that an advertisement which misleads the consumer with deception and lies is considered more correct”. After a German appeals court ruled that Benetton’s controversial advertisements constituted unfair competition because of the exploitation of human suffering, Benetton slightly changed their advertising methods for a short period of time.
Marina Galanti, a Benetton spokeswoman said that “Benetton will modify its ad images in the fall but said the changes have nothing to do with public pressure; the company hopes to go on pushing the boundaries of conventional advertising”. As of now, Benetton has continued to publish controversial advertisements to promote their clothes, their ideas of peace, and multiculturalism. As Benetton continues to grow, so do their controversies.