Explore the interconnectedness of contemporary media and culture, and the ways in which any cultural text or event is situated within a network of similar texts which seek to interpret and define it. Critical Analysis of the Benetton Company By Elisha Morrison In this critical analysis I aim to identify and examine how the Benetton Group (BG) capitalise on their image using the concept of racial integration, as well as cultural, social and ethical approaches to equal opportunities and human rights through their website.
The global fashion company The Benetton group was formed in 1965 by siblings Luciano, Giuliana, Gilberto and Carlo Benetton in Treviso, Veneto Italy. Along with the fashion photographer Oliviero Toscani in the Eighties they came up with the idea of communication campaigns such as the infamous All the Colors In the World campaign where ‘Toscani was using the language of racial harmony to transcend the cultural barriers to the same global image that Luciano was seeking by the company’ (Mantle 1991:131).
This is when the United Colors of Benetton slogan was created as ‘the ‘united’ colors of its sweaters soon became a metaphor for the united skin tones of the youth from many different countries for whom the sweaters were designed’ (Benetton Group 2010). The concept was so strong that it became the trademark and Benetton slowly stopped using the clothes as their main focus and started concentrating on social issues and they used their website as a vehicle for doing this.
With the use of ordinary people as a true representation of the world in which we live, they rejected traditional advertising strategies to communicate to the culturally diverse population. According to their website Benetton UK (2009) states that: ‘by addressing an individual rather than a customer, the brand can identify its target on the basis not on age or income, but as a shared vision of what’s important starting from a set of common values’.
Currently the home page of the UK website has an image of 6 teenage boys from various ethnic extractions. I used semiotic analysis to establish what identity formations are mobilised in its representations of the product/company. One has long hair and appears to have a feminine nature about him as he has one arm loosely draped around one member of the group and a hand placed on the shoulder of another.
They all wear different coloured Benetton clothing which signifies the diverse group of people they are trying to target as their consumer. They are young and of mixed races, with the gender of one member ambiguous. Their display of solidarity encourages the message of ‘togetherness’, all living in one world as a unified community where a culturally diverse population can mix together, living side by side to one another as a true representation of the real.
The retail giant further states on their website that: ‘Rather than presenting a simple “objective” portrayal of the world it made a commitment to foster the cohabitation of opposites, to break down barriers and ensure dialogue’ (Benetton Group 2010). Their website supports this ethos with multicultural yet ordinary people and not just the representation of ‘whiteness’ as the norm suggested in the works of Stuart Hall, by constructing a diverse society where all ethnicities can be a reflection of civilisation.
According to Hall (1996:117) individuals categorise themselves into ‘communities of identification’ and with this approach Benetton has gained them a large and diverse consumer group appealing to young people of all ethnicities as each and every individual can identify themselves with a identity they present within their advertising strategy, drawing an instant appeal to their product.
The use of tall, thin, blemish free models appearing in media texts for example is not an accurate representation and provides a distorted image of society so by including flawed and diverse people within their campaigns as well as including social and political themes which are relevant and current, they also gain the public attention of ‘important social problems’ as well as increasing their brand awareness.
Toscani’s interpretations of representing difference among these ordinary people caused a controversy in the All the Colors in the World 1984 campaign where, by their own admission Benetton (2009) states they ‘learned that dealing with the issues of difference within the process of advertising is not an easy task’ with the campaign infuriating some individuals, especially in South Africa where apartheid was still the law, with the idea of racial integration (Mantle 1999:131).
Toscani and Luciano however, continued to run controversial advertising campaigns all included on their website such as their AIDS campaign and other anti-racist campaigns, highlighting global issues in their message rather than focussing on the product, believing that this communication strategy would encourage the consumer to engage with the message and thus the brand, through identification and moral consideration.
The Benetton UK website includes a backstage video of the Adult Winter/Fall 2010 collection with models of all nationalities, features and skin tones wearing Benetton clothing of red, blue, yellow, black and green. With the use of multimedia the original message is visualised through the interaction between these models and their united existence, allowing the product and message to come to life.
There is an opportunity for the consumer to enter a competition to be the next new face in their advertising campaign as well as an interactive catalogue which are all ways the company use social media as a platform to engage with individuals with their brand identity. The Benetton website’s representation of ‘universal brotherhood’ as well as the social and political themes addressed in their advertisements, also accessible from the website, encourage public awareness of ‘important social problems’ such as the AIDS crisis, environment disaster, war and the diverse portrayal of beauty (Mantle 1999:150).
The controversy surrounding them has always been prevalent but they remain adamant that these advertising images are a positive representation of reality and with the use of its website aims to encourage the consumer to actively engage with the brand and its appeal. The website proves to be consistent with the original product and includes access to all previous campaigns, advertising images and press releases on the ethical work they do, presenting further interpretation of the cultural ideas of the brand and its multinational identity.
1001 WORDS ENDS References Benetton UK (2009) [Online]. Available at: http://www. benetton. co. uk (Accessed: 7 November 2010) Benetton Group (2010) Press Area. [Online]. Available at: http://press. benettongroup. com/ben_en/about/campaigns/history/ (Accessed: 4 November 2010) Hall, S. (1996) ‘Introduction: Who Needs ‘Identity” in Hall, S. ; Du Gay, P. (eds. ) Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage, pp. 1-174. Mantle, J. (1999) Benetton, The Family, the Business and the Brand.