Why Benetton is more in touch than John Lewis

The lovingly crafted John Lewis Christmas ad could have been made at any point in the last 20 years. In fact, with its finger on the pulse of middle England it reminds me of AMV’s wonderful Sainsbury’s/Volvo/Yellow Pages advertising from the early 1990s.

Benetton’s “Love not hate” campaign, launching with an image of the Pope kissing an Imam, bears more of the hallmarks of a political/charity campaign. The sort of shock tactics beloved of animal rights protestors and campaigners against child abuse (territory with which the Vatican is very well acquainted). The Pope/Imam poster has now been pulled but it’s already had its effect. It will be all over the Twittersphere, in blogs (like this one),  debated on forums, on the news channels etc etc. You won’t be allowed to forget it easily.

On the other hand, the John Lewis ad has had 1m+ views on youtube although I challenge anyone really to put an ROI to that sort of statistic. This is today’s equivalent to the days when people held conversations around the water cooler as to which ads they like. It is a lovely, traditional film aimed at middle class English couples with kids. Nothing wrong with that at all. So is John Lewis. But it offers no dialogue with consumers. It is an old fashioned top-down brand message.

I think, for all its 6th form crassness, the Benetton campaign is tapping into something more contemporary. For starters, it demonstrates a confident understanding of how networking send ideas viral and global. It demonstrates you no longer need to spend millions on TV media to get a message across. It contains the seeds of a multi-media, multi-discipline idea that allows consumers to take it wherever they want to. And not all the images are as controversial as the Pope one.

However, whilst I applaud the sentiment, I have to admit that I struggle to see its brand relevance – I don’t think casual tops have any more purchase on political  philosophy than Levi jeans do on political change. But at least the Benetton name is back front of mind. Maybe there is no such thing as bad publicity?

Over the next 10 years I predict we will see more marketing ideas following a Benetton strategy (albeit watered down) than the traditional John Lewis one. Ones which throw a gauntlet to consumers, invite them to debate and participate and become more actively engaged.

  • Jason Riahi

    Surely the campaigns are for two different target audiences and both hit the mark. John Lewis with a gushy, family-orientated ad for the middle class and aspiring middle class during X Factor. So the top down campaign works. Benetton with a controversial/ shock campaign for viral purposes, to get them noticed by a younger audience on social media. Appearing edgy and ‘hip’ in this age of occupy London/ student protest.

    Saying that I have never actually seen any Benetton clothes and I only know it as a brand that pops up with a purposely distasteful ad campaign.


      Fair enough Jason, but why can’t an older demographic participate in a viral “bottom up” campaign? And an edgy one at that? Twitter is pretty popular in my age group. Some of us even have laptops built into our zimmer frames.

      • Jason Riahi

        Thanks for the reply Chirs.

        I take your point; I think the viral “bottom up” campaigns can work for an older age group. But I think it comes down more to budget for this particular age group. With the larger budget I would go with the X factor ad campaign John Lewis chose to do. With a tighter budget the viral campaign would just have to work.

  • Emily Walmsley

    It’s about timing too, the John Lewis one is particularly effective in the run up to Christmas – feeling nostalgic for happy family times etc and Benetton, coming up to a religious holiday what better way to create controversy and hype than those pictures of the Pope?? And as memorable as the Benetton ads most definitely are i question the effectiveness – i couldn’t tell you where my nearest store is or what the latest line is like.

  • Jonathan Posner

    I think the key issue here is that they are both pure brand ads; both are for retailers but neither show a single product that is sold. In this age of social recommendation, creating positive brand perception becomes ever more important.

  • Chris Worsley

    This entire thread and comments could have been applied over 20 years ago (bar the absence of the new means to do so) - Benetton strive to be ‘rad’ and John Lewis IS Middle England. It’s all a tad bathetic and old hat.

    Replace the picture of a man dying of Aids with the Pope kissing an Imman and its plus ca change. Barely even 6th Form.


      Both the means and the will to engage with brands weren’t around 20 years ago. So while I agree that either execution could have been produced in the 1990s the Benetton strategy resonates more closely to the way consumers now like to relate to brands. I think. Or maybe Twitter et al are simply irrelevant and clients should stop getting fixated by such things?

  • Grilla Login

    Any1 who believes that a view or a ‘like’ is some1 having a ‘relationship’ with a brand is either deluded, or deluded. Now, I’m off 2 have an intense 1-on-1 with a banana… (Wrote this on an Apple btw ;-)

  • David Brennan

    “Tapping into something more contemporary” doesn’t mean producing a more effective campaign. It’s not, and never should be, an end in itself. If you had chosen anything other than John Lewis, you may have been able to make more of a point but, has been reported many times, JLP advertising does increase footfall and sell product very effectively and efficiently. I also love the fact you consider 1 million + views on Youtube to have no discernible ROI and yet you are happy to assume that the 6th form shock-horror of the Benetoon ad somehow does. Lots of companies have followed (or led) the Benetton approach; Pepsi’s ‘Refresh’ project springs to mind…and we know how well that performed in terms of ROI…

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