Shock! Horror! New Benetton ad shows clothes

Images of the electric chair, dying Aids patients and mating horses helped Benetton to build a reputation as one of the most provocative advertisers in the world.

Images of the electric chair, dying Aids patients and mating horses helped Benetton to build a reputation as one of the most provocative advertisers in the world.

Its most recent poster campaign, featuring the faces of Death Row inmates, sparked outrage when it was launched in the United States last year, and was condemned by both relatives of the prisoners and their victims.

The outcry has led to a remarkable about-turn, in which the company has droppedshock tactics in favour of a new image that it describes as "clean, fun-loving and colourful". In an even more radical move for the fashion house, the adverts will focus on products.

The "We on Death Row" campaign caused widespread outrage. The adverts were completely devoid of any Benetton clothing, featuring instead interviews with the convicted killers. Days after the posters appeared, the second biggest American retailer, Sears, said it would stop selling Benetton clothes and removed the products from its 400 stores. Shortly after that Benetton's creative director, Oliviero Toscani, left the company after more than 18 years.

Benetton's new image presents consumers with colourful photographs of young black or white people positioned against a white background wearing Benetton T-shirts, jumpers or swimwear.

It is a far cry from the challenging images of a bloodied newborn child still attached to its umbilical cord, a white baby feeding from a black woman's breast and pictures of people with Down's syndrome - all previously used to promote its clothes.

Benetton describes theadverts as "simple yet sophisticated ... young people from all over the world, colourful and dynamic, multiplied as in the mirrors of a funfair arcade, lighting up the traditional white background with their fresh spirit and optimism: these are the pictures for Benetton's worldwide product campaign for springsummer 2001."

Consumers may be forgiven for thinking they've seen the campaign before. It is surprisingly similar to the advertising that Gap has utilised so successfully in recent years. The adverts were created by James Mollison, 27, a British photographer from the Benetton-funded Fabrica arts institute in northern Italy.

Federico Sartor, the chief spokesman for Benetton in Britain, said: "It would be wrong to compare this advertising with that of Oliviero Toscani. We have chosen to work with a new photographer and use another kind of work. We won't rule out more controversial ads but we won't be obliged to do them either."

Trevor Beattie, creative director at the advertising agency TBWA, which has produced provocative campaigns such as "FCUK" for French Connection and "Hello Boys" for Wonderbra, said: "Benetton is the most remarkable branding exercise of all time. Whether you think their advertising is good or bad, we all know what Benetton is about and we certainly didn't 10 years ago."

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