Benetton and Shock Advertising: Does it work?

Benetton ads and shock advertising

This last week in my consumer behavior course, we evaluated Benetton’s shock advertisements and discussed whether or not they acted favorably or disfavorably toward the brand. We also analyzed if the ads were in fact considered artwork as this was the creative director’s argument at the time. After our in-class discussion, we each interviewed four of our friends and asked them the following questions:

1. Are you familiar with Benetton?

2. If yes, what do you know about the brand?

3. If yes, how do you feel about the brand?

4. [Show a few of the print ads from our case study, observe your friend’s reaction.]

5. What do these ads say to you? [the point of your question is to find out what message the ads are conveying/communicating – about the cause, about the brand].

All of the friends I interviewed were under the age of 25, with two of them being female and two of them being male. Not one of my interviewees had heard of the Benetton brand. After they had told me they weren’t familiar with the brand, I showed them a few of their most famous (or dare I say infamous) advertisements from the 80’s to today. The overwhelming response I got from my friends was that they did not know what product or service the brand was offering. They were able to associate some ads with social justice causes, such as homosexual equality, homosexual parenting and adoption, racial equality, racial parenting and adoption, among a few others. The one ad that caused the most confusion was the ad of the newly born baby still with the umbilical cord attached. Some of my friends thought it was an anti-abortion ad while others had no idea of what to think of the ad. From the ads that illustrated homosexual and racial equality, they said that they were easily identifiable social justice ads as they used people, their race, and their culture ┬áto convey the message of equality. However, they said they still were unclear of what it exactly Benetton offered to the public.

My friends’ responses align with my own thoughts and feelings. While some of Benetton’s ads raised awareness of social justice issues and were easily identifiable, other were not; in addition, none of the ads clearly explained what kind of company Benetton was and what they offered. While consumers do not always want to be blatantly told what an ad represents, there has to be some level of consumer understanding; otherwise, the ad defeats its purpose at raising positive feelings about the brand and its products or services. When I asked my friends if they thought the ads were artwork, the majority said they believed the ads were great photography but not necessarily artwork. Personally, I think Benetton has the right idea of telling consumers it believes in certain social justice issues as they explain what side they are on; however, they do not explain well-enough to the consumer what it is they offer and how that is related to the ad.

How do you feel about Benetton’s ads? Do you believe they were effective or ineffective in their techniques? Comment below and tune-in next week for another discussion in consumer behavior!

*The image above is not intended to to inflict on any copyright infringements of Benetton or its advertisements.