Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Benetton's Controversial Campaigns




Provocative images are widely used in advertising, especially in the clothing and fashion industry. The Italian clothing company Benetton uses shocking advertisements to create controversy and cause more attention with different versions of these polemic pictures. Although fashion businesses often attempt to associate their products with progressive social movements, Benetton was the first company to remove pictures of their products from the advertisements and replace them with powerful, thought-provoking images (Tinic, 1997). Benetton not only uses these advertisements for commercial reasons, but also promotes a social awareness with which clients of the brand express their position on these social issues by wearing their clothes.

Benetton’s persuasion techniques have broken various social taboos by getting people to talk about social issues that affect people from many different backgrounds. There are several arguments that support the use of shocking advertisements because of the immediate effect on the audience. The advertisement has a rapid effect upon the person and attracts attention, leaving a great distress in the person for a longer period of time.

Empirical research has been developed on the assumption that, despite images provoke strong criticism, the constant advertising strategy and the choice of using social values lead to the development of a positive emotional response. Results of interviews after exposure to different kinds of advertisements demonstrated that shocking content in an advertisement significantly increases attention, benefits memory, and positively influences behavior (Dahl, Frankenberger & Mamchanda, 2003). 

The shocking content example from Dahl et al (2003) study is shown in the poster below, and was posted on the wall of the laboratory where the experiment took place:


Vézina and colleagues also assessed through surveys the effects of the shocking strategy compared to other traditional appeals used in advertising. Their results suggest a positive effect of provocation in advertising on the levels of brand awareness, as well as on the level of knowledge of the advertisement’s content (Vézina & Paul, 1997).

Although Luciano Benetton, director of Benetton, assures that the advertisements were not created in order to provoke, but to make people talk and to develop citizen consciousness, these campaigns have ended in a controversial but successful marketing strategy.


[1] Dahl, D.; Frankenberger, K. & Mamchanda, R. (2003). Does It Pay to Shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students. Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 43, 268-280.

[2] Tinic, S. (1997), United colors and untied meanings: Benetton and the commodification of social issues. Journal of Communication, vol. 47, 3–25.

[3] Vézina, R. & Paul, O. (1997). Provocation in Advertising: A Conceptualization and a Empirical Assessment. International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol. 14, 177-192.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work. I added the poster from the Dahl et al article, which was about twice as likely to be remembered (80%) as the other two posters (one showed a driver's license hinting at an HIV expiration date, and the other simply stated the date when HIV was first identified).

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