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Is it possible to combine fashion with social issues?

We think so, although it’s not a topic that should be tackled lightly.

Earlier this week Benetton released their most recent campaign; two advertisements featuring images of refugees being rescued at sea, by German charity SOS Méditerranée. Both images were accompanied by Benetton’s slogan, United Colors of Benneton.

Needless to say it didn’t take long for the world to take notice, condemning the brand’s use of images of people in distress, for their own promotional purposes.

Responding to the controversy, SOS Méditerranée was quick to distance itself from the campaign.

“SOS Mediterranee fully dissociates itself from this campaign which displays a picture taken while our teams were rescuing people in distress at sea on 9 June,” they said via their Twitter account.

While Benetton is no stranger to provocative and emotive advertisements, touching on subjects like death row, aids and religion throughout the 90’s, we’re not convinced they’ve hit the mark this time. Beyond a public relations activity that has ignited conversations and thrown their brand into the spotlight, Benetton could do with taking a step back and learning from brands that do social awareness well – or better yet, look at their own previous campaigns that have included clear direction and call to action.

Fashion clothing

Before you look to combine your brand’s next campaign with a social issue, consider exploring the following points in an effort to set it up for success.

How does it relate to your brand, voice and purpose?

‘Left of centre’ is good, but swing too much in the opposite direction and you’re likely to open yourself up to issues.

Brands that do it well, stay within their realm of knowledge. Patagonia are known for successful campaigns in which they raise awareness, and have successfully influenced change. Although it hasn’t happened overnight – they have built their brand up over many years and championed their values through their clothing. Social initiatives highlighting environmental issues was a natural progression.

If you’re not entirely across the subject, but passionate about the topic, reach out to others that can help. It can make a world of a difference.

Start with conversations

While you may have a great idea, talk to those directly affected or impacted, or to those that have done so before you, to find out how your campaign might address issues, or be received. If you’re serious about influencing change or highlighting issues, consulting, testing and asking questions will lead you in a better direction.

What are you really hoping to achieve?

There is nothing wrong with a short-term initiative with an aim of igniting conversation, but choosing to tackle larger problems like Benetton have done so with this campaign, requires a mid to long-term strategy that details how your campaign will add value or impact change – the devil is in the detail.

If we have learnt anything from Benetton’s mishap, it’s that putting out a campaign blindly may not only upset millions, but likely to result in loss of time, effort, resources and possibly, reputation.

June 21, 2018
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