United Colors of Benetton has eliminated their clothing from their advertising campaigns and have been focusing on social issues of global concern since 1982 when Olivero Toscani began working for the company. They have come to rely solely on the visual rhetoric of their ads and the ideas that their images stand for to promote their company and ultimately sell their clothes. (benetton website)

When an advertising company puts out a print ad they have to create an image that can stand on its own without the special effects or sounds of the television. Print ads usually show up on billboards or in magazines where the consumer is being bombarded and effected by a million different visual elements at once, so the image of a ad really needs to stand out and stick in the consumers mind. United Colors of Benetton has gotten the concept of “shock advertising” down to a science. They show images that either revolt consumers, tug at their heart strings, or provoke new ideas of thinking.

This particular ad of a young girl, covered in dirt, practically naked and holding on to a doll, tugs at my heart strings. The first thing I see when I look at this image are those big brown eyes looking directly at me, challenging me and making me feel guilty about the clean clothes I’m wearing and the coffee that I am drinking while I sit in the coffee shop and worry about getting my homework done before I can go ride my bike tonight.

What feelings does this image evoke for you?

I bring all of this up because when we look at an ad we don’t just look at it, but we look through it. In order to figure out what the ad is really about we, as consumers, our brain has to make connections between what we see and our personal experiences and values to complete the message of the ad.

There are no words in this ad, other than United Colors of Benetton logo, in fact, there are no connections to United Colors of Benetton besides for this logo, so the consumer is in complete control of how they interpret the image. The symbols of the image begin to stand in for what the ad really means and what the ad is really trying to promote.

This brings me to the corporate rhetoric of United Colors of Benetton. Every element of this ad stands for what Benetton is trying to promote through their advertising. Luciano Benetton, the founder of Benetton Group (which owns the clothing brands United Colors of Benetton, Under Colors of Benetton, Sisley, Playlife and Killer Loop) says “The purpose of advertising is not to sell more. It’s to do with institutional publicity, whose aim is to communicate the company’s values…we need to convey a single strong image, which can be shared anywhere in the world” (museedelapub.org)

Benetton is one of those few companies that actually practices what they preach. Unlike their competitors such as Gap and H&M, Benetton designs, manufactures, and retails all of their clothing. According to the company’s website, they are currently Italy’s largest clothing manufacturer. They don’t outsource labor to third world countries while Gap and H&M do and have been widely criticized for. This image makes me think about poverty and the cheap child labor that is used in third world countries

This ad is effective on many different levels. While it doesn’t show me the clothing or get me excited about their fashions, I am intrigued by their values and I have formed a respect for the company.