Known for its controversial billboard campaigns, bright green bags and colourful knitwear, Benetton’s chief product officer John Mollanger is leading a “mature evolution” of the 50-year-old Italian knitwear brand
A history of controversial campaigns
Source: James Mollison
Sex education for prostitutes in Sierra Leone, AIDS, war casualties, religion and race were just some of the subjects of Benetton’s shocking ads from the 1980s to the early 2000s, making the latest A Collection of Us campaign launched for autumn 15 feel gentle in comparison.
But chief product officer John Mollanger, who joined in January this year from Asics, says that the Italian knitwear brand has moved on from “pointing the finger” in some of its “shock tactic” campaigns from the past to more focused, deeper campaigns that aim to actively improve situations, such as the position of women around the world.
It is this mindset that has led to the creation of A Collection of Us, featuring four models from different generations and backgrounds talking about their ideas around emancipation and empowerment.
Mollanger says: “When we began to reflect on our 50-year heritage, we considered adding new values to the brand or changing its vision but we decided that the most important thing was not to reinvent the brand but to be ourselves again.
“Our social commitment has been present in the brand for decades. We think Benetton can help the world become a better place – one in which people can live a peaceful and respectful life.
“It’s something that would be easy to understand as a corporate social responsibility agreement but for us it is not a fad, a trend or something we woke up to yesterday, it is our DNA.”
Benetton has also created four capsule collections that acknowledge its heritage and cement its position today. Comprising about 20 pieces each of women’s, men’s and kids’ knitwear, prices range from £34.90 for a kids’ jumper to £149.50 for a men’s jumper. It has also committed to a €2m (£1.5m) five-year project to support women in the garment manufacturing supply chain around the world.
For a UK consumer, championing the “plight of women” rather than global social issues of war, refugees and climate change might seem a tame choice, as the industry is awash with similar campaigns.
For a UK consumer, raised on controversial advertising campaigns and where the plight of ‘women’ against a backdrop of hardhitting global social issues of war, refugees and climate change, it all feels a little safe.
But Mollanger explains that while the UK with its 57 retail outlets – a mixture of stores and concessions, including a flagship on London’s Oxford Street – is an important market for Benetton, it is no way the biggest out of total portfolio of 5,000 stores worldwide.
Its domestic market of Italy is the largest for the brand with 1,700 stores, followed by India, with more than 800 stores and where the impact of the Collection of Us campaign may really hit home.
A gentler campaign for autumn 15