Opinion: Mills On ... Benetton

Sadly, I must report a failure this week. Two weeks ago, responding in this column to David Abbott’s fcuk rant, I wondered what he thought of the Benetton ’death row’ campaign. Mr Angry and I have had fax contact since, but I have failed to solicit his opinion on Benetton.

Sadly, I must report a failure this week. Two weeks ago, responding

in this column to David Abbott’s fcuk rant, I wondered what he thought

of the Benetton ’death row’ campaign. Mr Angry and I have had fax

contact since, but I have failed to solicit his opinion on Benetton.



This is a pity. As the Bartle Bogle Hegarty ads put it, I’d really like

to have a one-to-one with him about Benetton. And while Mr Crosspatch

and I disagree about fcuk (although I think the new ads show a drastic

loss of wit and subtlety), I’d guess we were as one on Benetton. In his

absence, however, I’ll have to do the business myself.



I hate Benetton (actually it’s the advertising I hate, but by extension

everything else). I hate it because it’s cynical and exploitative. Above

all, I hate it because it’s sanctimonious and hypocritical. To show you

what I mean, here’s a quote from the ’death row’ press release, which

you can read at www.benetton.com: ’Benetton’s campaigns have managed to

tear down the wall of indifference, contributing at raising the

awareness of universal problems among world citizens.’ Then, without

even pausing to draw breath, the PR guff continues: ’At the same time,

they have paved the way for innovative modes of corporate

communications.’ So there you have it. Not only does Benetton put the

world to rights, it also congratulates itself on the way it’s done

it.



You may disagree. You may believe that raising public consciousness of

various issues in this way is a worthy aim. You may even argue that,

since the ads generate massive media coverage, the end justifies the

means and that this is, therefore, ’good’ advertising, even if you find

it tasteless.



I don’t think it is. Call me hopelessly old-fashioned, but I start from

the premise that at some point along the way the advertising has to

touch - even tangentially - the product. This doesn’t mean the ads have

to feature Benetton clothes, simply that the promise or proposition of

the advertising must be aligned with the experience - in this case

either the retail environment or the product, preferably both. It does

at French Connection, which is why the advertising is so successful.



What then are the messages that Benetton would like us to take from the

ads? First, that it is different from its competitors; second, that it

is forward-looking; third, that it is edgy; and fourth, that there is

some ill-defined but real idealism that informs its purpose. Buy

Benetton, they say, and feel good because you’re doing something to make

the world a better place.



The reality is very different. I mean, have you been to a Benetton shop

recently? The clothes, for starters, are no more at the leading edge

than Marks & Spencer or Levi’s. The shops are small and dull. The

ambience is very 80s. They’re not fun or buzzy in the way that Gap is.

It’s about as much of a retail experience as McDonald’s is a culinary

one.



I’d suggest they can the ads, fix the shops and the product. Unless, of

course, the ads are no more than a cunning ploy to distract us from the

reality.



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