Benetton shock advertising  

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"The corporation most conspicuous in its use of AIDS in advertising is Benetton. In one of the most notorious ad campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, it uses charged documentary images of violence, disaster, and controversy to sell clothing."--Tangled Memories (1997) by Marita Sturken

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Benetton Group in the 1980s and 1990s were famous for their shock advertising.

There was an ad of a priest and a nun kissing, a black woman breastfeeding a white baby, and death row inmates.

Benetton has come under particular scrutiny for the use of shock advertisements in its campaigns, leading to public outrage and consumer complaints. However, several of Benetton’s advertisements have also been the subject of much praise for heightening awareness of significant social issues and for “taking a stand” against infringements on human rights, civil liberties, and environmental rights. Benetton’s advertisements have featured images of portions of men’s and women’s bodies with tattoos that say “HIV Positive”, a Black woman breastfeeding a White infant (which could be celebrated as a championing image of racial diversity or raising awareness of racial issues yet was also denounced for its historical connotations when black women, during slavery, were often required to become caretakers for white children), a priest and a nun leaning to kiss each other, as well as a group of real death row inmates (alluding to issues concerning capital punishment). Other shocking advertisements released by Benetton include an image of a duck covered in oil (addressing issues of oil spillage and the cleanliness of oceans), David Kirby dying of AIDS, a soldier holding a human bone, as well as a newborn infant still attached to its umbilical cord, which "was intended as an anthem to life, but was one of the most censured visuals in the history of Benetton ads."

Oliviero Toscani, a photographer for Benetton who contributed to many of its shocking advertisements, said, regarding the advertisement he created of a man dying from AIDS, that he wanted "to use the forum of poster advertising to make people aware of this [AIDS] tragedy at a time when no-one dared to show AIDS patients."


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