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A consumer's point of viewBenetton sells quiet revolutionIn this column, two consumers reflect upon their experiences in the marketplace. A male consumer and a female consumer alternate from issue to issue.You know, I've figured out those Benetton ads. I still don't...

A consumer’s point of view

Benetton sells quiet revolution

In this column, two consumers reflect upon their experiences in the marketplace. A male consumer and a female consumer alternate from issue to issue.

You know, I’ve figured out those Benetton ads. I still don’t like them, but, finally, understand them.

It says something already that nobody who reads this is going to say: ‘What Benetton ads?’ Everybody knows them.

The media talk about them, every time there’s a new one. And everybody also claims not to understand them. Now, I do. So there.

They’re really very clever. Of course, I don’t believe for a minute that a boardroom full of people sat down and plotted the strategy.

No, I think they just started to happen, pretty much by accident, kind of like the invention of Silly Putty. (‘Hey, Charlie, look what we got here. I think this is worth money.’)

Anyway, it’s no secret that Benetton ads are intentionally outrageous. They portray scenes that violate every taboo in the book: religion, race, sexual orientation, you name it, they flaunt it.

And, yet, they do this in order to sell clothes that are – my spies tell me this, I can assure you I’m not personally in the Benetton target market – essentially quite conservative. Or, at least, a lot more conservative than the advertising. But that’s just the point.

Benetton is deeply engaged in what the beer boys used to call, before they decided to out-technology and out-alcohol each other, badge marketing. It is selling an image. It is selling rebellion to a generation of people who don’t quite dare be rebels.

If you are 19 years old and don’t really want to pierce your nose and dye your hair purple, you can wear Benetton gear instead.

This strange little Italian company does your outrageousness for you. You buy Benetton and wear Benetton, and your badge, inside your own mind, is ‘daring rebel.’ But outside, to the rest of the world, you’re still safe and reliable and cuddly. You get to have your cake and eat it, too.

The best comparison I can think of goes back a few years to the most popular song Frank Sinatra ever sang – My Way. An appropriate song for, shall we say, an individualistic man.

My Way was a big hit everywhere, it’s true. But do you remember where it truly became an anthem? On the jukeboxes in blue-collar bars.

Every Friday night, Joe and the boys would get together for a beer or 12, and, sooner or later, on would come that Sinatra song. And they’d all sit around and sing along: ‘The record shows/I took the blows/And did it my way.’

Now, who were these guys?

Well, 40 hours a week, they worked in the General Motors plant, tightening the fourth wing nut on the driveshaft of a Camaro. They went home four nights a week, gobbled up meat and potatoes, and overdosed on sitcoms.

They never saw a movie with subtitles, ate an artichoke, or travelled more than 100 miles from home. And yet they sat around and worshipped a song that kept building to ‘I did it my way.’

Benetton advertising is, to a completely different audience, the ’90s equivalent of ‘I did it my way.’ It offers vicarious, no-risk individualism.

If you accept the principle that anything that sells your product is good advertising, then it is brilliant.

You’re welcome.