The advertising philosophy of United Colors of Benetton is based on Luciano Benetton’s belief that ‘communication should not be commissioned from outside the company, but conceived from within its heart.’
Benetton started off as a fashion label for the young, designing sweaters for people across the globe. As their market expanded their concept of United Colors spread to encompass people of different races and sensitizing them to the idea of tolerance, peace and respect for diversity.
“All the colors of the world” was one of their first slogans in their advertisements and later changed to “United Colors of Benetton”. The united colors concept proved to be a strong one and saw the company adopt the slogan as its actual logo.
The message that came with the trademark was one that form a base on ad visuals designed to create a growing network of “United People”.
On its quest to be the over-thrower of stereotypes, Benetton began working with Oliviero Toscani on images for the 1986 campaign. They had multiracial “couples” posing together with this representing an all-new interpretation of difference. One advert reflected the conflict that existed in religion and politics, having a Palestinian and an Israelite uniting. Other depictions in this campaign were based on taboos of religious and sexual conflict, with a picture of a priest kissing a nun, and another depiction of good and evil, symbolized by a little white angel and a black devil. Acknowledgement of these difference made the brand seem more involved.
This image of a war cemetery during the Gulf War, in 1991 was published in just 1 Italian newspaper called Il Sole 24 Ore, since all other papers refused to print it. They had a much more realistic approach with this campaign, and included depth of field. This went against the grain, when put next to all the “candy coated” approaches of the advertising world.
The other ad was that of a newly born baby still attached to an umbilical cord, which was intended to represent an anthem to life and an opposition against the irruption of death. This image ultimately became one of the most censored images in the history of Benetton ads.
In February 1992, there came a campaign that reflect Benettons drastic change in the way they communicated. The ads showed news photos of real, high-drama situations: a man dying of AIDS, a soldier gripping a human thigh bone, a man assassinated by the Mafia, a car on fire, a ship being stormed by emigrants.
For the sixth World AIDS Day, on December 1 st 1993, an enormous pink condom, 22 meters high and 3.5 meters wide, was placed on the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. This time, the stunt was endorsed by ACT UP, one of the most radical associations involved in information about and the fight against AIDS.
All the news programs on the main international television networks and, obviously, all the daily and magazine press featured the image that has become a symbol of the fight against AIDS.
Through its alliance with non-profit associations, institutions, and large international organisms, Benetton proved that a “different” use of advertising was indeed possible.
2001, Volunteers in Colors : a Benetton communication campaign, a special issue of COLORS and a concert, in collaboration with UN Volunteers to celebrate the International Year of Voluntary Work.
2003, Food For Life : a Benetton communication campaign, a book and a COLORS supplement in collaboration with the World Food Programme, a front-line UN agency in the fight against world famine.
2004, James & Other Apes : a Benetton communication campaign, a book and an exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, with the support of the Jane Goodall Institute, founded by the renowned primatologist who is a committed defender of the environment and a UN Messenger of Peace.
2008, Africa Works: a global communication campaign in favour of micro-credit in Senegal. Benetton puts the spotlight on entrepreneurial Africa.