Ads go back to shock tactics

BENETTON, the Italian clothing and sportswear manufacturer, is unrepentant about its latest advertising campaign's use of contentious images to market sports goods.

The new campaign for Benetton's SportSystem division, launched last week in New York, uses startling images of strife and turmoil. Some of the images - notably German Olympians giving the Nazi salute - have already caused offence and been ruled illegal by German judges.

One image shows Christ being crucified. On the opposite page is a picture of a climbing bootover copy which reads: "When there is nothing but you and the mountain, don't feel abandoned. You have something strong to believe in."

A picture of Cuban refugees at sea is accompanied by text saying: "Sometimes you need a boat to be free. Sometimes a pair of Rollerblades is enough. No more lies. No more ties. Spiritblade ABT: If you want to free yourself, play freedom."

Benetton's SportsSystem unit includes the marques of Prince, Asolo, Nordica, Rollerblade and Ektelon, and accounts for 15 per cent of the company's annual $6bn revenues. Benetton defends the ad campaign.

"Sufficient mediocrity is produced daily, particularly in the advertising world," said Olivero Toscani, Benetton's creative director. "Creativity is not based on security. Once you're secure you're doing something that has already been done. We try to go another way.

"Of course we may risk alienating potential customers. You always have to consider that. But you can't really exploit reality."