When I think of Benetton I am reminded of the raft of outdoor and TV adverts that they launched in the 1980’s 1990’s and into the noughties. Images of a mercenary with a person’s limb in his hand, a person suffering from aids at the point of death, Obama kissing the Chinese president and so on still resonate in my mind.

These adverts were designed to shock people and in so doing, draw their attention to the Benetton brand. Its creative director Oliver Toscani, developed a world-wide reputation for his consistent ability to come up with such adverts.

The retailer enjoyed a great deal of success throughout these decades and expanded its operations to become a global retailer in every sense. The nagging question however was whether or not its success was due to the marketing campaigns. In particular, did the advertising encourage people to purchase merchandise or simply become aware of the campaigns?

As might be expected Benetton underwent some significant changes over the past few years. In 2012 it delisted from the Milan Stock Exchange and it reverted back to family ownership. In 2014 it split into three divisions: retail brands, manufacturing and real estate. The son of the founder (Lucian Benetton) Alessandro, took over during this time and recently stood back and left it to the Directors to run operations. John Mollanger took over the retail brands category.

We have witnessed a change in direction with regard to Benetton’s advertising strategy.

Gone are the “shock” adverts and in are softer, more focused messages.

Mollanger describes the change as follows.

“We have moved away from pointing a finger at what we thought was wrong and instead we want to actually improve what we think is wrong” (Sunday Telegraph; 25 October 2015)

An upcoming ad will be released via social media and features five women taking it in turn to interview each other on Scandinavian styled chairs. One is Asian, another is in her seventies and it contains no black women. They discuss issues such as the contraceptive pill as a form of sexual freedom and the challenges of being a woman living in a male-dominated society. The “hard edge” nature of the older adverts is missing.

Benetton has also launched an initiative with the United Nations to improve the quality of women’s lives world-wid.  It has set up a £1.5 million foundation to address this challenge.

What do you think of this shift in direction with regard to its marketing communications in general and it’s advertising strategy in particular?

Do you think that this is simply a more subtle and cynical way of playing with people’s emotions in an attempt to get them to buy Benetton merchandise?

Is it a genuine and more measured response to a changing environment where individuals are showing more concern about ethical and socially responsible issues? Increasingly, within Western Europe at any rate, people are showing a stronger inclination to pay more for products are ethically and socially based.

I would welcome your views and opinions.


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