Controversy in Advertising

Why is it that every time something regarding human rights or politics appears on my newsfeed on Facebook, it gets hundreds of comments in response? What about that post makes it more important than my photos, or my status updates? (I mean, despite the fact that they’re not even interesting…) It’s the controversy.

Controversy is defined by Merriem-Webster as “a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views.” (“Definition of Controversy”) And from my experience, people live for it. I know that seems like quite a bold claim – but think about it. People value their opinions as supreme, and most, if not all, would defend it, and judging by the Facebook “fights” over political issues that end friendships, I’d say most people don’t have a problem voicing them, either.

Whether you’re for or against an issue, there’s one thing we can all agree about controversy: it gets people talking. Forgive me for quoting Gossip Girl here, but one of the show’s opening remarks is, “You’re no one until you’re talked about.” Change the context a little bit, and you can see, the issue isn’t prevalent on people’s minds until they can form an opinion on it (even though most times it’s not exactly an informed one.)

So maybe that’s why the clothing company Benetton chose to market their products using controversial ads that basically have nothing to do with their company – it captures people’s attention and it gets people talking.

In a world filled with hundreds of thousands of options for consumers, if you’re not offering a revolutionary product, you better be using a revolutionary advertising strategy to bring in some revenue. Benetton did exactly this. Though I’m certain that if you had never heard of Benetton, these ads wouldn’t exactly inform you as to what exactly they’re trying to sell you, but boy oh boy will they grab your attention.


See here – this is a picture outside of a train station in Italy. The masterminds behind the Benetton marketing strategy couldn’t have picked a better place to grab attention other than one of the most public and widely frequented places in the city.

Benetton uses not only controversial topics to get their name out there, but also radical ones as well.

Personally, I think this campaign is beyond brilliant. Benetton doesn’t just use advertisements of beautiful models in crazy makeup to sell their clothes – they don’t even advertise their clothes! Instead, they use highly debatable topics in modern society and culture, such as the issue of gay marriage, animal rights, racial injustices, and most recently, the unHate campaign.

CEO Luciano Benetton assures us, “We did not create our advertisements in order to provoke, but to make people talk, to develop citizen consciousness.” (Top 10 Controversial United Colors of Benetton Ads)

I’d have to say that whatever their intentions may have been, they’ve clearly succeeded them. If they wanted to get people talking, they’ve more than done that. In fact, they’ve created a shockwave of new, revolutionary ideas independent of what they’re trying to sell. Despite the controversy of it all, I commend Benetton for its bold move to “make people talk,” and they’ve forever gained a loyal supporter in me.



Top 10 Controversial United Colors of Benetton Ads. (2012, March 22). Retrieved from

Definition of Controversy. (n.d) Retrieved from


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