The story behind the Benetton Word-of-Mouth (WOM) Campaign
Benetton, Italy’s largest clothing company, launched yesterday, November 16, 2011, a highly controversial Word-of-Mouth (WoM) campaign. They coupled this campaign with the launch of their newly founded advocacy group for tolerance, the Unhate Foundation.
The campaign content included a film promoting Unhate.org, love and tolerance; photo composite posters and wall video projections of Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez lovingly locking lips; and, social media activity including the Kiss Wall where users can upload images of themselves kissing and are randomly paired up with others thus mimicking the main campaign theme. Other featured kissing pairs include President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao; the Pope and Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, the Imam of al-Azhar mosque in Egypt; the leaders of North and South Korea; German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy, president of France; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benetton Unhate Campaign – CNN Interview (subtitled in English) – Claudia Havi Goffan
The campaign was inspired by a kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German communist leader Erich Honecker in 1979. And this is just the first part of the three-part campaign. Benetton has a history of controversial advertising. Their campaigns that started on 1991, showed a black horse mating over a white one; a collage consisting of genitals of persons of various races; a priest and a nun about to engage in a romantic kiss; and the most famous of them all, a bloodied, unwashed newborn baby with umbilical cord still attached, which was featured in the reference book Guinness World Records 2000 as ‘Most Controversial Campaign.’
The White House stated that no advertising is allowed to use President Obama’s image while the Vatican condemned the campaign as well. The company’s deputy chairman, Alessandro Benetton, decided to remove it from all publications after complaints and an explanation that the campaign means not hating, and that embracing a loving attitude that can have a positive impact in the world. The campaign is on every news site, blog, channel, all over the world. A true word-of-mouth marketing success.
The cost of such campaign via regular media purchasing methods would have meant an automatic dismissal amongst the management ranks of Benetton whose revenues had dwindled in the last quarter in Europe, where the company gets up to 80% of the total revenues. Their forecasted margins for the next few quarters look even bleaker with the expected increase in raw-material costs.
Shock tactics do work in advertising, and even though we haven’t heard much from the United Colors since their contentious ads and world take-over of their brand as one of the 90s’ most known and fashion forward, we know that Benetton has built their foundations on advertising equality and has come up with another genius concept here. We are sure there are already people reaching for their
phones to complain. This is a love it or hate it campaign. Their target market is very clear though. The urban young who wants to break with stereotypes and change the world into a better and more loving and accepting place.
We all know that the worst thing that can happen to a brand is not to be mentioned. Benetton got more than its share of mentions this time. All that we have left to see is their financials at the end of the next couple of quarters to see if it really paid off. And we believe it will.
By: Claudia “Havi” Goffan – President Target Latino – CNN en Español Interview – November 16th, 2011.