CAMPAIGNS: Weekly Web Watch - Death row does it again for Benetton

Organisation: Benetton
Issue: The US death penalty
At: www.benetton.com/death row

Organisation: Benetton

Issue: The US death penalty

At: www.benetton.com/death row



Benetton’s new global communications campaign for spring/summer 2000 has

already been raising eyebrows and caused million dollar law suits to be

lodged in the US.



The campaign recently hit Britain with harrowing billboard images of

condemned men from death row in the States. Benetton has dedicated a

large section of its web site to reinforce these images and transmit its

manifesto that prisoners on death row ’are not just virtual characters

eliminated or spared with a simple click as with a video-game’.



The site’s home page contains mug-shots of six death row prisoners

inspired by Benetton’s ad chief Oliviero Toscani. Alongside the photos

are a series of six interviews in which the prisoners reveal their fears

and hopes.



The most disturbing part of the interviews is when the condemned men

speak candidly about a future in which the only certainty is their

execution.



Questions range from the innocent ’do you have a hero in sport?’, to the

more probing ’have you ever been in love?’, and ’how often do you think

about your execution?’.



The site also contains a written report on behalf of the National

Criminal Defence Lawyers which helped Benetton by contacting and

negotiating with prison authorities and inmates’ lawyers. The campaign

sparked outrage in the US among the victims’ families.



There is also confusion over whether the interviews and pictures were

obtained by deception. Jeremiah Nixon, Missouri state attorney-general,

has claimed that prison authorities under his jurisdiction believed that

the journalist and photographer allowed in were working on a serious

project for Newsweek magazine. No commercial use of photos was

mentioned. He is now suing Benetton alleging ’trespass by deceit’. The

law suit is part of a backlash against the company which culminated with

pickets outside its New York mega-store. In the face of these protests

US retail giant Sears has cancelled its contract to stock clothing and

removed merchandise from 400 stores.



Benetton defends its use of shock tactics in its statement of intent on

the site. It claims: ’our campaigns have managed to tear down the wall

of indifference contributing at raising the awareness of universal

problems among the world’s citizens’.



If Benetton’s intention was to raise public awareness of the plight of

prisoners on death row then it has failed. Once again Benetton campaign

has sparked controversy and inevitably the real issue gets lost amid

arguments of good or bad taste. Visitors to the site have the rare

opportunity of gaining access to the mind of a person condemned to die,

but whether this is an ethical way of promoting a line of clothing is

questionable. Perhaps the Italian firm’s global shock tactics have

finally gone too far.



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