Message Over Product; Our Top 5 Benetton Ads

Not averse to courting controversy, the Benetton brand has been creating shocking and provocative campaigns for over 30 years. With photographer and Creative Director Oliviero Toscani at the helm of the brand’s unique image from 1982 to 2000, Benetton created a series of now iconic campaigns, apparently with no connection to the brand’s product. From dying men to bloodied clothes, the message seemed to promote compassion and tolerance, often with race as a hook. Yet in 2011 many believed the brand went too far with their UnHate campaign, with photoshopped images of world leaders and Heads of State, including the Pope, embracing and kissing. Benetton ultimately conceded to legal pressure from the Vatican and the ad was removed from circulation. Here’s our rundown of the best of Benetton which, regardless of your views of the images themselves, have undoubtedly created unlimited impact for the brand.

5. Part of a wider campaign in 1991 to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, Benetton released this abdominal image, complete with H.I.V. positive tattoo. Addressing the taboo surrounding HIV/AIDS, the campaign featured various parts of the body, exposing a stamp revealing them to be HIV carriers. It was perhaps the following image, however, that was most impactful on this theme

4. The 1990 image of AIDS sufferer David Kirby on his deathbed was deemed gratuitous by many at the time, yet in perspective many commentators attribute its effect as having changed the face of AIDS and giving unique insight into an intensely private and devastating moment.


3. 1989’s ‘Black and White Campaign’ addressed the issue of race and saw images of black and white people handcuffed to one another, white men covered in black paint and perhaps the most controversial being a black woman breastfeeding a white baby.

2. Continuing with the use of babies as a central theme, 1991’s campaign saw the company use the below image of a new born baby girl across billboards around the world. The image received 800 official complaints from members of the British public alone and is the most censured of Benetton ads around the world.

1. And at number one, the most controversial image in this collection has to be the 2011 image below. Pope Benedict XVI locking lips with the imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque created an outcry that the Vatican branded ‘unacceptable provocation’ and ended in the Italian clothing company pulling the image. Company boss Alessandro Benetton commented two years later that “Provocation just for the sake of provocation would not be acceptable anymore”.


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