Critique – United Colors of Benetton


United Colors of Benetton, a clothing company has partnered with various organizations throughout its history to promote social justice and address world issues.  For one of its campaigns, it teamed up with the World Food Programme to create the “Food for Life” campaign.
The basis for this campaign, its pitch, is that one cannot escape perils like poverty, ostracism and violence without first obtaining food.  Without the basic human need of food and nutrition, one cannot even begin to think and act to lift themselves up from their dire straits.  In parterning with the World Food Programme, a UN affiliate to alleviate world hunger, the United Colors of Benneton hopes to appeal to a group of people who are desirous of social change.  Showing that their company, too, is desirous of social change will attract a larger consumer base to buy their products.
One of the images used in this persuasion campaign depicts a black man, with a nude torso, amputated hand, and a makeshift prothestic hand composed of a wristplate, extension bar and spoon.  The man while not completely emaciated, does look rather skinny and is in sharp contrast to the neutral grey background of the image.  Copy on the right side of the ad reads “Food for life”  with the World Food Programme logo just above a white “United Colors of Benetton.” on a green field.  Smaller, and in the bottom right hand corner are the websites to the WFP and UCB.  All text in this ad is formatted in the strong and neutral Helvetica font.
Aristotle has written that for an argument to be persuasive and effective, there needs to be shown an ethos, logos, and pathos. The ethos, or credibility, of this ad is found in its simplicity of a photograph.  It depicts a man who looks untouched and natural – apart from his realistic looking amputation.  The viewer is not given the opportunity to question whether or not the man in front of him actually exists; the man in picture is the same man as was in front of a camera once, live, in person.  The logos, or logical steps, to this piece are somewhat more complicated.  First, looking at the black male subject and reading the copy gives an indication of location and origins for this piece.  Much of the World Food Progamme’s efforts have been made in Africa. So logically, this black male is supposed to represent a male in Africa.  Next, the abnormal part of the man is his amputated hand.  Knowing that this man is supposed to represent an African male, and drawing knowledge about the political and civil instability in Africa, one can conclude that the male in the ad lost his hand to a land mine or out of some form of ethnic violence.  Finally, the amputated arm is replaced with a prosthetic spoon.  The logical conclusion says that this African man, crippled by violence still has to eat, and since his hands are gone, he must make do with a prosthetic spoon.  This really is where the Pathos, or emotional appeal to the argument comes out.  As a viewer looking at this advertisement, one sees that there are people in this world who live in horrible conditions; who cannot even eat normally because violence where they live.  The idea of buying clothes when others are starving becomes a thoughtless idea.  Instead, United Colors of Benetton wants the viewer not to just buy clothes from them, but to support the World Food Programme.  United Colors of Benetton is so thoughtful as to provide an easy way to do this: by shopping in their stores, and perhaps donating some money to the WFP.
This image is highly effective and does indeed alter the viewers perceptions.  What is at first made to look like an appeal for humanitarian aid, is actually an advertisement to sell a clothing line.  We are coerced into feeling good about buying clothes when others are starving.


One Response to “Critique – United Colors of Benetton”

  1. sudeepti Says:

    McLuhan knew what he was talking about 🙂

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