Some of the more shocking ads in the $27 million campaign include religious themes such as Jesus being crucified by Roman soldiers and a crying Madonna; a pack of sperm heading toward an egg; German Olympians during the Third Reich giving the Nazi salute; and Cuban boat refugees. And, of course, no Benetton campaign would be complete without a condom.
At a New York press conference, Benetton Group Creative Director Oliviero Toscani said: "I am using my creative talents and innovation. I am using these life images to convey the message of sports. Sports, after all, are the ultimate expression of human life."
Hence the dominant tagline "Do you play life?" that will appear in many of the more than 20 ads along with variations such as "Do you play race?" None of the ads will run globally; different messages and images are regionally slated.
The campaign, created in-house by Mr. Toscani, kicked off in the July 20 issue of Tennis Week. Ads will run through next summer in sports magazines including Tennis, Skiing and Racket. The $900 million SportSystem unit includes brands such as Nordica, Prince, Rollerblade and Ektelon.
To head off the wrath that retailers and subsidiaries often express over Benetton ads, "We asked them which photos they liked the best and which would make the best ads," said SportSystem CEO Silvano Storer. "Of course, not everyone agreed on everything, but we think we have a good consensus."
Some Benetton apparel ads were recently banned in Germany after a great deal of protest, much of it from the company's own retailers. And in France, the company had to pay $28,300 to HIV positive plaintiffs who sued over a Benetton ad showing body parts stamped "HIV positive." The company plans to appeal the decision.
Mr. Toscani states the company won't fight the action in Germany but rather "will make up new ads that are creative but will still be accepted in that country."
Among the controversial ad images used by the company are a white child wearing angel's wings alongside a black child sporting devil's horns; and, in a statement on the Bosnian war, a soldier's torn and blood-soaked uniform.