Italian fashion brand United Colours of Benetton (UCB) is known for experimenting with different shades of advertising. Benetton caused ‘outrage’ before ‘outraging’ became a thing. Over the decades, its bold ad campaigns faced backlash and boycotts while the brand “earned media” with headlines across the world.
In India, due to the country’s complex cultural and political structure, UCB has had to tread a bit more carefully. This election season, though, brands from salt to sweaters want in on the greatest “festival of democracy” and Benetton is no exception. The brand created print manifestos and a film to show where real power resides – with the people, not the politicians. The film features references and grand promises from political speeches before a finger with an ink mark comes into frame and shuts up the politicians. The film ends with a line “Show them who has the power. #UnitedByVote.”
As the blitzkrieg of fairly benign election-themed brand campaigns continues, we wonder which way viewers have voted on a brand that has never been politically correct.
Power of Copy
Neha Chawla, a freelance photographer, is a fan of monochrome frames. While that’s not the main reason why she gives Benetton’s campaign a thumbs up, Chawla tells us she was also impressed with the script. “Benetton India has been doing a good job with their “United By” series of ads. What I particularly like about this spot is the narration and the build-up. Full marks to the scriptwriter.” She reckons the campaign just might be able to encourage millennials to use their vote to make a difference.
Where’s The Brand?
Vaibhav Kulkarni who works at a technology MNC didn’t notice Benetton’s film on his social timeline. Kulkarni’s first thoughts after watching the film were “good CSR activity?” He adds, “I missed seeing the mention of United Colours of Benetton in the video.” Kulkarni also thinks the brand should have used the good old telly if it meant to make a difference.
Ads and Actions
Siddharth Mehta likes to experiment with fashion. Mehta's social media feed is often filled with fashion-related posts and targeted ads. Benetton is one of the many pages that the young entrepreneur follows, and he spotted the campaign on the day of its release. “It’s a great awareness generation campaign. It showed us who really has the power to make the change. It makes you think. I haven't seen many brands doing that these days." To think is great. But did the spot inspire action?
Sundeep Kumar Chugh, CEO and MD, Benetton India, was clear about what he wanted his team to put together this election season – a non-product focused campaign, like always. “We want to be meaningful and a brand with a purpose. We want to have a strong emotional connect. Whether it translates to a purchase or not, it does not matter. We just do what the brand has done for years.” The brand is in its 26th year in India. “We are the No.1 subsidiary outside the home market – Italy,” Chugh tells BE. ‘UnitedBy’ was launched in India about three years back and the new election campaign is the tenth in the series. #UnitedByVote is running in print, social media, cinema and in-stores across the country. On the growing number of instances of backlash against brands over ad campaigns and whatnot, Chugh says, “If the content is right and reflective of what is happening, it works.”
The Agency Report
Titus Upputuru, creative head, Taproot Dentsu
On the brief
It was one of the loveliest briefing sessions I have had in my career. It started with a little story about how the founder’s (Luciano Benetton) sister knitted a yellow sweater for him and how his friends wanted one for themselves. We were asked to create a campaign around elections with the kind of communication that Benetton is known to do across the world.
On personal Benetton memories
I remember the store in Vasant Vihar, Delhi where we saw the bold posters created by Oliviero Toscani. The one with the nun and priest kissing, the HIV tattoo on the butt, and the lovely little faces of kids of different ethnicities with their arms around each other. I have another distinct memory. This was about 20 years ago. Toscani was visiting India and was speaking at a seminar in Siri Fort, Delhi. After his presentation, someone in the audience asked if he had seen any interesting advertising in India. Toscani promptly replied, “The big billboards with the phone number written across them.”
“United Colours of Benetton has always been bold in its approach, unafraid to make statements on issues of race, gender, politics and more. And, its brand voice is always impartial, inclusive and from the (extremely relatable) vantage point of its consumers. With this latest campaign, the brand emphasises that voting is not just a privilege, it is a right that we all have. By contrasting this power with the definitive statements and choices that our politicians may have made for us in the past, UCB really strikes a chord with its consumers. A UCB consumer is young, dynamic and impressionable, and the brand always has a message that resonates with him or her. By asserting that the power to choose is in their hands, UCB sticks to its brand principles and makes an even more impactful statement this election season.” - Chandni Shah, COO, Social Kinnect.