In a country where a holy figure is public enemy number one, and earthquake survivors can’t re-reproduce after losing their only child, it’s no wonder Benetton saw the opportunity as another ad campaign.
The word ‘victims’ is spelled in dark, blotched watercolor above two Asian men bowing to each other, engaged in prayer. One is a soldier; one is a Buddhist monk. Was it not the army keeping the Dalai Lama in exile? This may seem appropriate.
However, in an authoritarian government it’s usually those in power that are comfortable while the rest comply. Political heads and elite businessmen occupy the very gilded tip of the social pyramid, while the rest are weighed down supporting them’mdash;even if involuntarily.
Consider the soldier: Perhaps it’s Benetton’s way of implying that he too suffers from government domination. Or, again, it could be open to another form of controversial interpretation. Either way, Benetton has master crafted the ability of turning heads.
‘If it bleeds, it reads,’ my local bike repairman told me last week. He’s a fellow history buff. And the one thing I’ve learned from studying media trends and public response is that sex, drugs, and violence sell very, very well.
But just how unexpected is Benetton’s new ad released coinciding with the Olympic games?
The clothing brand is synonymous with criticism over its ethical standards with a history of campaign directors flouting social taboos. Take into account the September 1991 campaign that meant to ‘break through the barrier of indifference’ by depicting a nun and priest sucking face. Or the beastiality quip of ’96, where a white horse was wildly humped by a black stallion, obliging us to remember ‘that which is natural is never vulgar”mdash;as well as forcing parents for an early sex-talk with their kids.
But nothing took a turn for the rabble-rousing worst like in 1992’s ‘reality’ campaign of David Kirby, an AIDS sufferer. The ad pictured Kirby seconds after dying from AIDS, surrounded in a hospital bed by family members. Benetton offered the teetering explanation that it was ‘a means of continuing the battle against this terrible disease after death.’ Of course by teetering, I mean teetering between that of which is actual concern, or just a shallow means of selling pricy apparel.
Benetton has figured it could do both: Minimally contribute, in the most recent case, to dialogue between Tibetan and Chinese people, while making their stock rise higher. It leaves an offsetting taste in my mouth to see the Olympic games gallantly play on after heavy blood-riddled protest and several attempts of Olympic torch thievery. This makes me an easier target for a laughably sympathetic ad of a Buddhist and Red militiaman praying with each other.
Of course, when I first saw these ads in magazines, I was sold. I immediately went online and found out what Benetton was exactly and then located the nearest store. Call it a weighty subject, but I felt like I belonged. After my first purchase I became a citizen of the United Colors of Benetton’mdash;complete with an adorable polo T-shirt insignia of what looks like a little person with outstretched arms
Whether the reason was selling clothes or gathering a cult, the ads worked. I was part of the controversy.
The shirt I bought was red’mdash;red like the bloodied T off a Bosnian soldier (Benetton ad, 1994). When I wore this shirt, it was a reminder to help the world when I can, or, perhaps, the purpose was to help slim my chubby, muffin-top figure.