United Colors of Benetton's new 'Unemployee Of The Year' activity, which includes a television ad (above), seeks to contribute to tackling youth unemployment by funding 100 youth projects.
The campaign comes months after the brand's 'Unhate' campaign, which featured an image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing Imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, and is designed to fit in with its tradition of raising awareness of socially delicate issues.
'Unhate' harked back to the brand's 1990s controversial advertising heyday, when its campaigns featured an AIDS patient on his deathbed, a newborn baby still attached to its umbilical cord, a black horse mounting a white one, and pictures of inmates on death row.
Speaking yesterday (18 September) at Benetton's Brompton Road store in London, Benetton Group chairman Alessandro Benetton said the campaign was no less shocking in philosophy than previous activity.
He said: "Today it appears a less strong image – the important thing is it is a contemporary argument, a contemporary issue.
"In reality, this campaign is even more shocking if we think of the implications – 100 million young minds that are running the risk of being lost is something we cannot afford."
The 100 million figure is based on International Labour Organization data for 2012, which shows there are 75 million unemployed worldwide in the 15 to 24 age range, with a world youth unemployment rate of 12.7%, and an estimated 100 million-plus in the 15 to 29 age range.
Youth unemployment is an acute problem in the brand's home market of Italy, where it stood at 36.2% in May, its highest level since 1992.
Benetton is aiming to "support youth to become actors of change against indifference and stigma", by running a competition to launch 100 projects submitted and selected by young unemployed people.
The competition will be run under the banner of the retailer's Unhate Foundation, which was set up to coincide with the brand's 'Unhate' campaign at the end of 2011, to carry out projects that supported the social aspirations of its campaigns.
Benetton's focus on youth in the current campaign comes after Gianluca Pastore, the worldwide communication director of the Benetton Group, told Marketing that the brand wanted to "regain the attention" of young consumers.
He said: "As with many brands with a long, successful history, we can't expect to be the most popular for youngsters, so our core market now is much more 25 and above."
The Unhate Foundation is inviting unemployed people between the ages of 18 and 30 to submit outlines of projects that will have a concrete social impact on their community.
Project ideas will be hosted on the Unhate Foundation website and voted for by the online community, with the 100 most deserving projects receiving €5,000 in support from Benetton to make the ideas a reality.
The 'Unemployee Of The Year' campaign will be supported by creative featuring portrait photos of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) below the age of 30, which will be featured in press and social media activity.
Benetton will release a film paying homage to four NEETs showing their fight to find a job while "fighting for their dignity" against stigma.
The ads will be broadcast in more than 35 countries through digital media and a partnership with MTV.
Alessandro Benetton believes marketing in recent years has "not done a good job" if the brand keeps on being compared to fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara.
He argues that the trend for buying an item of clothing cheaply and wearing it three times before throwing it away "is not us", because the brand is focused on making high-end clothes that last.
He concluded: "Fast fashion is happening in every single sector I know, but discounting, low prices and the consumption culture is not something we do".Follow @mattchapmanuk