Benetton’s founder, Luciano Benetton, started his business in true entrepreneurial style by exploiting what he considered a niche market at the time. He noticed that there was very little colour in the majority of clothing that people wore and therefore decided that there was a clear market for more colourful products of a substantial quality. Benetton’s keen observations proved to be correct and the company grew into the global clothing manufacturer that Benetton now is.
In order to ascertain whether the global brand can be sustained it is necessary first to examine why the brand has become a global brand and what makes it so popular. One of Benetton’s key aims is to provide clothes of a consistently high quality as well as attempting to provide clothes that appeal to a large portion of the population. There is no reason why this winning formula could not survive through the ages, in order to stay successful Benetton merely need to ensure that they keep in touch with global demand and continue to keep their brand well known and liked. This last point may seem like a relatively easy one to achieve but Benetton enjoy exploiting extremely controversial issues as part of their ‘Institutional Campaigns’. These campaigns aim at publicising the entire company as a whole rather than any one range of clothing. Through this marketing technique they aim to not only keep public attention for their corporate name, but to associate Benetton with trying to raise awareness about certain issues. As can be seen from the response to their most recent campaign, pictures of death-row inmates1, this does not always generate a favourable response. Benetton stress the fact that they are not trying to use shock techniques to advertise their products, they continue to insist that they are only raising awareness in the interests of public education2.
It appears, in light of the examples given above, that Benetton seem to have a sustainable global brand. The only aspect that Benetton need to be concerned with is the brand image that consumers develop. Although their ‘Institutional Campaigns’ appear to have been successful in promoting consumer knowledge about the brand, the image still appears to be comparatively negative. This then needs to be outweighed by either the quality of the product, or by other product-based advertisements.
Question 2: To what extent do you believe that Benetton can succeed globally with its current communication strategy and would it be advised to adapt its approach for some markets? Justify your answer with reference to specific examples and theory.
Benetton’s current communication strategy is diverse. A large portion of their communication budget is spent on their ‘Institutional Campaigns’. These campaigns are designed to advertise the company and corporate image rather than specific product lines. Although they do develop standard product based advertisements, these are on a much smaller scale and generally specifically geared to a certain market rather than promoting the global brand. The theory behind this is that Benetton prefer to advertise via the number of stores they have in a particular area. As Luciano Benetton was quoted as saying:
“I discovered that, even if the brand was unknown, seeing three or four of our shops in one town would give a feeling of security equivalent to a good advertising campaign…”
This means that Benetton feel comfortable that they have enough product advertising and so continue with their current strategy. In order for this to be successful many would argue that the general public should gain a good impression of Benetton through their advertising. Benetton decided that the easiest way to achieve this was to bring current issues to public notice, therefore educating the public and increasing awareness about certain controversial issues. The company has been doing this since 1984 when they started promoting racial equality in all of their advertisements under the slogan ‘United Colors of Benetton’. This proved to be so successful in the eyes of Luciano Benetton that actual Benetton clothing was dropped from the advertisements in 1990 and by 1991 the issues addressed had extended beyond racial equality. It was at this point, after a series of billboard posters showing images such as; a nun and priest kissing, a dying AIDS victim lying on his deathbed surrounded by his family, and a military cemetery filled with crosses, that complaints started to be made against Benetton.
This type of advertising still continues and Benetton routinely receive complaints from the public as well as many activist groups and various standards agencies. In Benetton’s defence they claim only to be raising public awareness about important issues that should concern everyone as their website claims.
“Benetton’s campaigns have managed to tear down the wall of indifference contributing at raising the awareness of universal problems among world’s citizens.”
Many people would suggest that Benetton change their communications strategy if they intend to use this form of advertising in stricter or more religious markets because the advertisements are even more likely to offend in these regions. This can happen because cultural barriers are far stricter, meaning that advertisements could easily be banned or Benetton boycotted if the advertisements were thought to be too controversial. Benetton however are not particularly worried about the bad press they receive in response to their controversial images as this quote shows:
“Through their universal impact, they have succeeded in attracting the attention of the public and in standing out amid the current clutter of images…
… they have aroused strong reactions – at times ferocious, at times simply curious, confirming once again that they are always a focal point of discussion and of confrontation of ideas.”
The overarching goal of forcing the public to talk about Benetton and for the name to be used in conversation would still be achieved; providing Benetton with the publicity they require.
As this appears to be their aim, it would be advisable not to change the current communication strategy, but to release more product oriented advertising specifically designed for regions where their normal communications would be banned.
Question 3: Evaluate the potential impact on Benetton of changing channels to international markets e.g. Internet and globalisation of the retail sector.
If Benetton were to change their channels to international markets it would not have a tremendous impact on the company. The reasons for this are manifold but the most obvious reason is that the company have managed to not only expand globally, but have also managed to achieve some of the best production and distribution efficiencies possible by consistently using the newest and most advanced technological systems available.
While this may not seem like the most obvious benefit, with closer analysis it can be seen that the advantages provided by this allow Benetton to be in a position whereby it is extremely easy for them to deliver a custom order within a very short space of time. This would be extremely important if any of the newer channels such as the Internet were used.
One of the main benefits of shopping using the Internet to the consumer is the illusion of being in a shop and buying products while still actually being at home. What makes this possible is not only the interactive websites and impressive catalogues provided online, but also the fact that products are shipped almost immediately and are therefore received within a small number of working days. Benetton’s advanced production and distribution systems make this prompt delivery possible with very little added effort and cost.
To demonstrate this Benetton have recently (September 2000) launched their own e-shopping site in conjunction with Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) entitled theex.it. This site currently allows customers to purchase any product from the many lines of clothing that Benetton offer and have it delivered free to any destination in UK, Germany or Italy. As such the current languages available on the site are English, German and Italian although this is set to expand as the website diversifies to allow purchases from all product lines and distribution globally.
The impact of this move on Benetton has not been significant. Although e-commerce sites have recently been struggling, theex.it has Benetton to support it through any difficult periods that may ensue. Benetton have done their best to ensure that the site is as useful as possible by making it available in different languages and by allowing delivery in as many areas as is feasible.
As this example has proved, and the evidence above suggests, the impact of Benetton expanding to use different channels would not be tremendously significant, however if they were to change as the original question suggests, the impact could be considerable. Benetton have always spent a lot of time and effort making sure that their stores are designed in a specific way so as to sell the product best. This has become as much a part of Benetton as the products themselves, thus to change completely could be devastating to the company because the brand would no longer appear to be the same.
Appendix I (http://www.apbnews.com/cjsystem/justicenews/2000/02/17/benetton0217_01.html)
Sears Cancels Benetton Contract
Top Execs Cite ‘Outrage’ Over Death Row Ads
Feb. 17, 2000
Victims’ Groups Protest Benetton Ads
Emotions Run High Over Death-Row Clothing Campaign
CHICAGO (AP) — Sears, Roebuck and Co. severed ties with trendy Italian clothier Benetton, whose ad campaign featuring death row inmates upset customers.
Sears chairman and chief executive Arthur C. Martinez was “outraged,” as were many customers, at the ads, said company spokesman Tom Nicholson.
Emotional customer reaction
Cindy Finley, mother of murder victim Patrick Finley, wipes tear at anti-Benetton protest in New York.
“The advertising campaign was inconsistent with what Sears has come to stand for and is inconsistent with the customer base we serve,” Nicholson said. “We have a high level of customer trust and loyalty, and there has been some strong emotional reaction to [Benetton’s] campaign.”
The ads, which began appearing in magazines and on billboards last month, feature portraits of American death row inmates in prison uniforms over the words, “Sentenced to Death.” The ads also give the inmate’s name, date of birth, crime and expected method of execution.
Glorifying convicted killers
Benetton officials said the ads were meant to raise awareness about the death penalty, but victims’ rights groups said the ads glorified convicted killers and were insensitive to victims’ families and friends.
Sears, based in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, introduced the Benetton USA clothing line last fall to help boost lagging clothing sales. Benetton made that line exclusively for Sears and continued to sell its United Colors of Benetton clothing in its own stores.
But now, Sears has ended its contract despite the Italian clothing company’s offer to allow Sears to preview future ads. Sears had previously said it would keep the contract under that condition.
Sears has been weighing its decision to terminate the contract since it learned the content of the ads in early January, Nicholson said.
Victims’ Parents Blast Benetton Death Row Ads
Missouri Sues Benetton Over Death Row Ads
Death Row Fashion Ads Spark Outrage
Fashion Ads Feature Condemned Inmates
“We have been hearing from people who have lost loved ones to some of the folks who have been profiled,” Nicholson said. “It’s reopened wounds and brought back a lot of painful memories, and people are hurt by it.”
On Wednesday, groups picketed a Houston Sears store and Benetton’s New York office. Hours later, Sears announced it would immediately pull Benetton-designed clothing from all 400 Sears stores that have been selling the Benetton USA line.
No comment from clothier
Benetton spokesman Mark Major did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Sears’ decision.
But earlier Wednesday he said Benetton stood by its ads and believed it had succeeded in “launching a national and global discussion on capital punishment.”
Benetton has made headlines in the past with ads addressing such topics as AIDS and racism. It also prompted protests from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s for ads featuring models dressed as a priest and a nun that were kissing.
Appendix II (http://www.benetton.com/)
LOOKING AT DEATH IN THE FACE
Ponzano, 7th January 2000 – At the dawn of the new millennium, Benetton reveals the real faces of the prisoners on death row: the present of those without a future. Whether they are young or not so young, white or black, arrogant or anguished, fat or thin, remorseful or unrepentant, smiling or sad, healthy or ill, they all are guilty in the eyes of the human law. Many have their arms folded, one is reading the Bible and some are wearing eyeglasses. Almost all of them are looking straight at the camera, claiming, despite everything, their rights as human beings. These portraits of dozens of individuals sentenced to death, are the results of Oliviero Toscani’s work for more than two years, in which he visited death rows in several American prisons. They constitute also the dramatic visual images for Benetton’s Spring-Summer 2000 worldwide communication campaign.
The campaign is about the death penalty. Leaving aside any social, political, judicial or moral consideration, this project aims at showing to the public the reality of capital punishment, so that no one around the world, will consider the death penalty neither as a distant problem nor as news that occasionally appear on TV. Toscani’s images aim at giving back a human face to the prisoners on death row, to remind those “respectable people (who) are always so sure they’re right…” (1) that the debate concerns men and women in flesh and blood, not virtual characters eliminated or spared with a simple click as with a videogame.
The campaign will appear on billboards and on the pages of the major news publications in Europe, America and Asia in January 2000. In addition, the images will be accessible via Internet on the Benetton website at www.benetton.com. In the United States, all the images will be included in an issue of Tina Brown’s magazine, Talk, released on the 11th of January. Alongside Toscani’s photographs, a series of interviews by Ken Shulman, a free-lance journalist who works for Newsweek, can be found in the catalogue. In these, the death-row prisoners reveal their desires, fears, hopes and nightmares. Above all, they talk about a future which holds the certainty of execution and the end of their sorrowful and of their forgotten lives in prison. As Shulman wrote, they often acknowledged “that having killed has changed them forever, and for the worst”.
This publication also includes a report written by Speedy Rice, on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), who has contributed to the campaign by patiently contacting and negotiating with prisons’ authorities and inmates’ lawyers. Mr. Rice mentions that during 1999 there has been a sharp rise in the number of executions in the United States. Of the 600 death sentences that were passed between 1976 and the end of the 20thcentury, approximately 100 executions were carried out in 1999.
With this new initiative, Benetton has once again chosen to look reality in the face by tackling a social issue, as it did in previous campaigns that focused on war, Aids, discrimination and racism. Bitterly attacked by some and internationally acclaimed by others, Benetton’s campaigns have managed to tear down the wall of indifference contributing at raising the awareness of universal problems among world’s citizens. At the same time, they have paved the way for innovative modes of corporate communication.
(1) Barbara Graham’s words, as she was going into the gas chamber where she was executed, some say unjustly, on 3 June 1955 (quoted in Until You Are Dead: The Book of Executions by Frederick Drimmer and used as an epigraph for the novel The Crime by Andrew Klavan).
Appendix III (http://www.benetton.com/)
The Story of Our Advertising
International, homogeneous, and characterized by universal themes, Benetton Group’s advertising campaigns have been, since 1984, not only a means of communication but an expression of our time.
Through their universal impact, they have succeeded in attracting the attention of the public and in standing out amid the current clutter of images.
Benetton campaigns have gathered awards and acclaim in all the countries in which the Group is present; by the same token, they have aroused strong reactions – at times ferocious, at times simply curious, confirming once again that they are always a focal point of discussion and of confrontation of ideas. One need only recall the editorial comments from the major American and European television networks and the thousands of articles which have appeared in newspapers and magazines all over the world.
Hankinson, G. (1996) The reality of global brands McGraw-Hill, London
Kotler, P, Armstrong, G, Saunders, J, Wong, V. (1999) Principles of Marketing: 2nd European Edition Prentice Hall, New Jersey
Mantle, J. (1999) Benetton: the family, the business and the brand Little, Brown, London
Muehlbacher, H, Dahringer, L, Leihs, H. (1999) International Marketing: A Global Perspective International Thomson Business Press, London
http://www.benetton.com/ – Benetton Homepage
http://www.theex.it/ – Benetton Online Shopping
http://www.ucad.fr/pubgb/virt/mp/benetton/index.html – Benetton Corporate and Advertising History
http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/benetton.htm – Benetton – Killer Ads
http://www.business.com/ – Business News and Information
http://www.ago.state.mo.us/020900.htm – Nixon sues Benetton for prison trespassing and fraud in ad campaign that features death-row inmates
http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/EC/Benetton.html – Roger Clarke’s Benetton Page
http://www.apbnews.com/cjsystem/justicenews/2000/02/17/benetton0217_01.html – Sears Cancels Benetton Contract
http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/s/e/sea121/benetton.htm – The “FACCE/FACES” Exhibition
http://www.fool.co.uk/ruleshaker/1999/rs991203.htm – The Motley Fool UK: Rule Shaker, 03/12/99
http://www.informinc.co.uk/LM/LM77/LM77_Ann.html – Whose Advertising Standards?