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Shock advertising is a tactic which has been used by Benetton and other companies. This and other forms of advertising are employed to achieve advertising goals. There are multiple pros and cons of using such methods as shock advertising. However, there is a multitude cons associated with misusing shock advertising. Oliviero Toscani has advocated for and created shock ads for Benetton. In the long run, Benetton has turned to a more traditional form of advertising.
Advertising is the main channel for communication with consumers (Belch, Belch, 2009). It is a way to communicate a specific message to a target audience (Mcdaid, 2006). Although messages differ, there is one main objective of advertising, to communicate value to customers (Belch, Belch, 2009). This is the added utility the customer gets, above the cost of the product, from using a specific brand’s product (Belch, Belch, 2009). Companies implement different approaches/strategies with their advertising to accomplish specific goals, although there are a few main categories of objectives. These include trial, continuity, brand switching, and switchback (Mcdaid, 2006). A trial objective is designed to motivate consumers to try a product for the first time (Mcdaid, 2006). Continuity is the goal of keeping existing consumers (Mcdaid, 2006). The other objectives are attempting to pull a consumer away from purchasing products from other brands, either to return to the brand or try it for the first time (Mcdaid, 2006). These four categories of advertising objective are broad and inclusive. The objectives of an advertising campaign are specific. They vary by industry as well as by individual company (Belch, Belch, 2009).
Benetton Group used an angle of advertising that is not often seen, shock advertising. Their use of shock advertising gained the company international recognition. Benetton used this method for 20 years, to attempt adding value to their brand (Benetton Group, 2009). There is one main objective which shock advertising accomplishes, grabbing the attention of the viewer (Colyer, 2002). The company has a statement revealing the reason they say they chose this advertising method. The company publically uses a statement by Luciano Benetton, which says that “communication should not be commissioned from outside the company, but conceived from within its heart” (Benetton Group, 2009). They go on to say “actual consumption is repositioned within the overall context of life. By entering the universe of values the brand frees the product from the world of merchandise and manufacturing and makes it a social being of its own.” (Benetton Group, 2009). Benetton tried to convey its socially-based messages through its ads. The company has used many shocking images in their advertisements. This allowed them to “capitalize on an image” (Benetton Group, 2009).
Benetton has launched many campaigns, all with the similarity of a message of humanitarianism and a picture with shock value. Early ads portrayed pictures such as lesbians and gays hugging, a African American boy going in to kiss another, and an African American boy and a Caucasian boy sitting on individual potty training seats, among others (Senthil & Thota, 2003). These ads were intended to convey a message of racial unity. However, they created a lot of negative responses, especially in the United States and in some European Countries (Senthil & Thota, 2003).
In 1989, Benetton decided to have all of their ads made in-house (Senthil & Thota, 2003). During this time Oliviero Toscani was brought in to create ads (Senthil & Thota, 2003). Under his direction, ads were created featuring a just-born baby, a dying AIDS victim, and pictures of skin tattooed “HIV positive” (Senthil & Thota, 2003). Other ads featured pictures of male and female genitals of different ages and colors (Senthil & Thota, 2003). The shocking images and themes do not stop here.
Benetton launched ad campaigns with such titles as “we on death row” (Senthil & Thota, 2003). Ads in this campaign featured pictures of inmates on death row with their execution dates. These ads were met with much negativity from the victim’s families.
Colors Magazine was launched by Benetton in 1991 (Senthil & Thota, 2003). This magazine was sold. It was not a free publication. It was geared toward young people, which is the consumer group targeted by the company. This publication brought up social issues while bringing attention to the company.
The People & Places magazine is another publication which was created and used as advertising for Benetton. This magazine featured a different subject every issue. Topics covered included issues such as Down’s Syndrome (included pictures of children) and Arab and Jewish conflict (with pictures of Arabs and Jews standing together or kissing) (Senthil & Thota, 2003).
There is much debate on whether shock advertising actually does add value to a brand. There seems to be one pro and many cons to taking this advertising approach. Shocking images are attention-grabbing (Colyer, 2002). This brings attention to the ad. However, the advertising market is well-saturated with ads of every type. It is hard to have an ad seen by a consumer (Colyer, 2002). It is even harder to keep that individual’s attention. Shock advertising succeeds in grabbing and focusing individuals’ attention, if only for a few brief seconds. This builds brand awareness (OS, Research Manager, 2003).
There are many cons to implementing shock advertising as a strategy. It helps build hype for the brand, but this hype is short-term (Multiple Authors, 2003). A drawback of this hype is that it often brings negative attention to the company (Colyer, 2002). It is easy for shock ads to go too far. Such ads can have repercussions of offense and complaints against the company (Colyer, 2002). When this happens, the company’s image is damaged (Colyer, 2002). Another problem with shock advertising is that it is misleading (Colyer, 2002). Benetton is advertising about social problems. These social problems have nothing to do with their products. This can be upsetting to consumers.
The negative impacts of using shock advertising as a strategy are hard hitting. After one set of ads released in 2003 was chastised by the Advertising Standards Authority, Benetton publically announced that its advertising strategy was a failure (Yelland, 2003). As a result, Benetton saw its stock drop by 9% (Yelland, 2003). The Benetton brand image needed to be completely rebuilt (Yelland, 2003). Such a drastic change was needed that a new boss was brought in from Fiat to fix the problem (Yelland, 2003).
Oliviero Toscani defends the prior use of shock advertising by Benetton. He states that “There is a crisis in advertising. The industry is lagging behind social trends,” (Ganesan & Thota, 2003). He felt that advertising should actually be art (Ganesan & Thota, 2003). He also believed that advertising should be on the cutting edge of social trends. These areas are not particularly related to advertising in any way. Toscani was in charge of the advertising for Benetton, yet he also states “Nobody ever told me my job was to sell anything.” (Ganesan & Thota, 2003). Advertising is the means of communicating value to customers. Toscani’s ads did nothing to comment on even the type of product Benetton sold. His campaign did an astronomical amount of damage to the company’s sales and to its reputation. Toscani was put in the position of creating ads without the necessary education or experience. Allowing this man free-reign over all of the company’s communications was a bad business decision, and blindly following his lead was folly.
Other companies have used shock advertising as their campaign strategy. Shock ads draw attention. They can be useful to gain initial exposure for small or new companies. Shock advertising is successful, but companies have to be careful how it’s used.
F C U K brand is an example of using shock as a selling aspect. This company has a brand emblem that produces shock. F C U K places its emblem on all of its products, and the logo is visible in all of the company’s ads. This company’s strategy differs from Benetton’s strategy. This company uses the shock produced by the logo to draw attention to the ad for the product. Each ad illustrates the product itself and the utility brought to the consumer by using a F C U K brand product (Colyer, 2002). This company is successful with its campaigns (Colyer, 2002). The company has grown to produce clothing, perfume, drinks available at bars, and many more (Colyer, 2002).
Shock ads can used successfully when created in the same manner that Benetton created its ads. However, it is successfully used to produce a negative, averting effect. Anti-smoking ads are commonly seen on television today. These ads use offensive images which are shocking to viewers. The goal of these ads is to educate smokers on the dangers of smoking. The shocking images are intended to jolt smokers into the realization of the effects of smoking on their bodies, and on the bodies of their loved ones. These ads are considered successful because they produce the desired effect in the minds of viewers. This method is also being used to avert individuals from other damaging behaviors. New York uses shock ads to bring awareness to the dangers of obesity. One such ad featured a glass of thick, yellow human fat (Prentice, 2009).
Reviewing cases in which shock advertising is successful, I agree with Benetton’s decision to switch advertising techniques. Benetton used shock ads in an ineffective, inappropriate manner. The ads failed to produce the desired effect in the minds of viewers. They were ineffective at illustrating the industry the company was in, and at promoting their products. Product awareness is an important part of advertising, which Benetton’s initial ad campaigns completely missed.
The ads built a negative image for the brand and the company. The ads did this by creating controversy over existing humanitarian issues. This did nothing for the company or the resolution of the issues. The shock ads elicited negative responses from viewers. This response was linked to individuals’ opinions of the controversy and the company. These negative attitudes toward the company caused lower sales and many public relations problems. The combined result of the negative opinions caused the company’s image to require a complete overhaul.
Personally, I am offended by Benetton’s shock ads. The images are inappropriate for public viewing. If I had prior knowledge of the content and the images, I would choose never to be exposed to such filth. After viewing the ads, I was unaware of what the company did, and the type of products they produced. This was confusing and frustrating from a consumer’s perspective. The ads also gave me an aversion-response toward anything associated with the company and the locations where their ads are displayed. As far as my research shows, the company isn’t giving money to help the humanitarian causes; they are only trying to capitalize on human misery. I feel this is highly unethical and immoral. This standpoint makes me think even less of the company as a whole.
Benetton’s current ad campaigns use pictures of young people in Benetton brand clothing. This type of advertising focuses on the product. The ad illustrates what the product looks like and shows the utility of wearing Benetton brand clothing. This approach is more appealing to consumers, as well as informative.
The new ads are appealing to me as a consumer. I like to see the product being advertised, and know what the company is about. The new ads don’t make me feel “tricked”. I felt the company was hiding behind their earlier ads, instead of using their ads to show the product and the company.
Shock advertising is a tactic that was implemented by Benetton for twenty years. This strategy was employed to achieve a Benetton’s advertising goals. There is a multitude cons associated with misusing such methods as shock advertising. Oliviero Toscani has advocated for and created shock advertisements for Benetton. In the long run, Benetton has turned to a more traditional form of advertising.
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