Ethics in Advertisement of United Colors of Benetton

Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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As the students of MME (Economics and Management studies), we have chosen the topic, which involves our study program, which is the Marketing and Consumer behavior. Our topic is focused on the advertisement and the practices of United Colors of Benetton Company. Their way of marketing seems to be directed “another way” and it has been discussed several times whether their strategy is ethical or not in the past.

First we would like to highlight the basics of the United colors of Benetton company and then all the classical kinds of moral reasoning theories will be described (Utilitarianism, Deontology) applied on the United Colors of Benetton advertising strategy. Virtue ethics is not going to be discussed as it is not a suitable approach for this case. Utilitarian and deontological approaches are going to serve as a mean for understanding whether it would be wise for Benetton to change its strategy or stick to its traditional way of marketing and ignore the voice of public opinion.

The United Colors of Benetton strategy United Colors of Benetton is an Italian company that thanks to its unusual way of advertising is dicussed all over the world. It is one of a few companies that does not insist on showing its products in the advertisements. Instead of the product controversial motives are used presenting different kinds of social issues (eg. rasism, terrorism, social tabus). "The Benetton United Colors campaign illustrates how modern advertising has been radicalized into an explicitly political forum. " (Tinic, 1997) Since United Colors of Benetton has started with this advertising strategy many critical reactions have occured.

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As a result of this negative publicity many Benetton' s adverts were banned in several countries. The criticized aspect is mostly the fact that Benetton is an organization trying to reach the profit and high level of awareness among consumers. Therefore its goal is similar to most of other businesses. However, Benetton' s representatives are trying to persuade the public about their concern in pointing at most dicussed issues in the world and increase general awareness about these problems. United Colors of Benetton uses shocking motives, in other words fear appeal, in its adverts.

Fear appeal is used in eg. stop smoking, prevention against AIDS and drugs advertisements. Scary and eye-catching motives are used in the adverts to show what harmful consequences could a certain activity cause. Some of Benetton' s adverts also use fear appeal but the problem is that in regular commercials where fear appeal is presented, possible solution or prevention against the problem is presented in the message (eg. prevention against AIDS - use condoms). Benetton has been trying to call attention to actual social issues but they never provide any other information than the company’s trademark.

Beyond complaints about individual Benetton advertisements, there appears to be an undercurrent of unease caused by the fact that social problems have been linked to the sale of designer clothing. " (Tinic, 1997) Therefore our paper is going to dicuss whether the advertisements of United Colors of Benetton are ethical or not based on the theoretical framework related to moral reasoning. The company' s philosophy is based on the conviction of Mr. Benetton who says that “ communication should no be commissioned from outside the company, but it should be conceived from within its heart.

The United Colors of Benetton (UCB) emphasizes that the communication should be no longer connected with the consumer but with the individual. “By entering the universe of values, the brand frees the product from the world of merchandise and manufacturing and makes it a social being of its own. By addressing an individual rather than a customer, the brand can identify its target on the basis not of age or income, but of a shared vision of what is important, starting from a set of common values. ” ( Luciano Benetton)

First idea of Benetton’s company was written in the early 60’s because their sweaters were marketed into the many different countries with different people’s skin tones. The “united” name became a metaphor pretty soon thus the name of Benetton’s company was changed to the United Colors of Benetton. One of their first add showing no racial differences saying “All the colors of the world” was the start of the new era of their many times controversial marketing strategy discussed all over the world. Three separate cycles of building Benetton’s value

As it was mentioned above, the strategy of Benetton’s advertising campaign leads to many discussions and criticism and many of ads were prohibited in several countries. Their strategy is divided into 3 main cycles. The cycle of Difference The first and oldest cycle started in the 80’s and was concerning to the racial, religious and sexual conflicts and differences. All the conflicts are based on tabus and on a difference that separates rather than unites. The Benetton’s plan was to integrate opposites and to unite differences under a single flag – the Benetton’s logo.

The ads were not so controversial. As in the following cycle – the cycle of the reality. The cycle of reality This cycle starts in the early 90’s as the answer to the Gulf War (the ad showing the war cemetery. This ad was refused to print it by several newspapers. This kind of ads showed the reality of the life – but paradoxly – the most censured campaign showing the newborn baby (as the eruption of real life) caused the biggest scandal. Another campaigns showing the real, high drama situation were censured too. There are pictures of some of them:

The pictures of AIDS patient, the soldier and the Albanian emigrants were not taken for the ad campaign but were the agency photos used for conveying styles. They were showing the real world. The cycle of free speech and the right to express it Last and the most recent cycle campaign was actually created as the answer to the second cycle. The reaction to the real life photos was often violent and not accepted by the critics. Benetton has been fighting for having a free speech and right to express it by new kinds of campaigns (trying to highlight the AIDS issues, homosexuality, racism, etc. ) Utilitarianism approach

Utilitarianism is the moral reasoning approach theory, which is answering the question, what is right and wrong in various situations. The effects and consequences determine the right or wrong action. The greatest good for the greatest number may be defined as a utilitarian approach. Pleasure and pain measurement is based on the Cost benefit analysis. The founder of utilitarianism was Jeremy Bentham. He was saying that ethics is more or less a mathematical equation (total happiness plus pleasure minus pain). The negative consequences would have a negative impact on the society and it would create the unhappiness.

Everyone who would stick to the rule – the security would be given as well as predictability and certainty leading to the overall happiness. For a Benetton’s company the happiness may be described as the total way of the company’s philosophy. Their goal is not only increase their profits but also the social awareness of the real life problems concerning all of us. The pain involves those who protest against the Benetton’s adverts. The amount of those who protest against the Benetton’s adverts is rapidly decreasing and the Benetton’s strategy has been getting more and more accepted.

This means that the Benefits (Happiness) outnumbers the Costs (Pain) thus according to the Utilitarian approach of moral reasoning – the Benetton’s campaign is ethical. "A utilitarian could condone or even prescribe an act of deception if the positive consequences outweighed the negative consequences. " (van den Belt, 2010) From the utilitarian point of view, even if Benetton? s advertisements are being criticized, it still brings a lot of positive results (eg. increased awareness about the brand). Both positive and negative evaluation enable the brand to be seen and perceived among consumers.

Deontological approach Deontological approach as well as utilitarian approach are concerned about a practical solution of a problem more than a philosphical/abstract solution that is more typical for virtue ethics. The core principle of both deontological and utilitarian approach is finding the right thing to do in a certain situation. On the contrary, there is a dissimilarity between these two approaches as utilitarianism is more focused on consequences and deontological approach emphasizes side features of the actions (eg. ishonest or fraudulent behavior). In case of United Colors of Benetton , there is a question if it is correct and ethical to use social issues and catastrophical motives in their commercials.

According to questions "What should I do? " or "What is the right thing to do? " the solution from the moral perspective would probably be elimination of controversial motives from Benetton? s advertisements. The reason why this solution would be chosen is calming of the situation - decrease of criticizm among the consumers. The public would be satisfied ith not being exposed to unpleasant images of Benetton? s adverts. On the other hand, from the business perspective, Benetton would lose its unique way of increasing awareness both about the social issues as well as about the brand. Based on deontological approach Benetton should change its strategy and use less controversial motives. The company should not only think about instrumental values but should also take into account tha fact that "human beings have moral dignity and possess intrinsic value" (van den Belt, 2010).

Due to this reason the company should not only strive for the profit and increased awareness. Choice of less controversial motives or change of advertising strategy could be one of the solutions. "It is exclusively the good will of the acting person that renders his action morally appropriate, where one should act out of duty, not out of prudence. " (van den Belt, 2010) Moral issue related to this citation are in case of Benetton as follows: ? never injure anyone with your advert messages? but it does not necessarily exclude the fact that Benetton' s commercials should always please everyone?. The way Benetton does its advertisements is unique in the market. There have already been many trials of other companies to copy this strategy but they were never successful. Advertising strategy of Benetton is so distinct from others that losing such a competitive advantage in the market could cause harmful consequences for the company. That does not mean that opinions of the consumers should be ignored. The voice of public should definitely be taken into consideration.

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Ethics in Advertisement of United Colors of Benetton. (2017, Mar 20). Retrieved from

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