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United colors and untied meanings: Benetton and the commodification of social issues

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The Benetton United Colors campaign illustrates how modern advertising has been radicalized into an explicitly political forum. Although lifestyle companies often attempt to associate their products with progressive social movements, Benetton was the first company to eliminate pictures of its products from its advertisements. In 1989, ads depicting Benetton's sportswear were replaced with powerful and problematic visual images of AIDS, environmental disasters, terrorism, and racism. Social issues became the embodiment of Benetton's product and, through the transformation into commodities, lost their significance as problematic human conditions. The campaign illustrates how the decontextualization of placing issues within the framework of product promotion, creates a tone of discordant meaning not adequately explained by mass culture critiques of consumerism. This case study recommends that advertising should be studied as a complex and contested social discourse within 1990s consumer culture.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Journalism, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

Publication date: September 1, 1997

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