The Kiss of Death

The United Colours of Benetton is no stranger to the public eye in terms of their controversial advertising. Since the 1980’s the clothing brand has utilised the tactics of attracting responders not through their clothing, but through what the advertisement represents or, the signifieds.

“The signified: the mental concept that results from our encounter with the signifier” (or the physical elements of the image). (Communication, New Media and Everyday Life pg.86)

So here we are in 2014 a year where the relations between North and South Korea are so evidently poor that not even Miley Cyrus swinging on a wrecking ball naked could draw more attention to it.

So what does the United Colours of Benetton do?

Unhate-campaign-benetton-2011-yatzer-5

(Image Source: UNHATE Foundation)

They team up with the UNHATE Foundation and make the former Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, and the former President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak... kiss!

So here we have an image – of two older men of oriental decent kissing, above the men to the left is the bolded word ‘UNHATE’, and the formal status of both the men in smaller text below their faces.

Lets take a look into the signifieds:

Evidently the contextual interpretation of the image is what makes it so controversial – the ‘Supreme Leader’ and the ‘President’ are both engaging in a homosexual act – of which in South Korea Article 92 of the Military Penal Code, singles out sexual relations between members of the same sex as “sexual harassment” or “reciprocal rape”, punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. The same goes for North Korea – the nation of secrets – where there is no legal recognition of same sex relationships, homosexual individuals are not allowed to serve in the military and there are no anti-discrimination laws to condemn homophobic crimes as illegal. The image of the two former leaders kissing sparked immediate uproar, to which, Benetton states that the images were created “to stimulate reflection on … politics, faith and ideas” and to employ “the leaders and citizens of the world to combat the ‘culture of hatred'”

From this ‘sign’ we come to realise a trend – where the advertisement is controversial or the signifieds overwhelm an individual, one simply forgets the true function of the image – to advertise a product.

This ‘trend’ is further evident through a modern film by ‘WREN‘ clothing whereby 20 strangers were asked to embrace in a kiss, for no particular reason. The three minute film titled ‘FIRST KISS’ is only specifically connected to the brand through a one second frame reading ‘WREN Presents.’

References

Creative Review – Benetton wants the world to UNHATE. 2014. Creative Review – Benetton wants the world to UNHATE. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2011/november/benetton-unhate. [Accessed 24 March 2014].

GayNZ.com Being gay in South Korea. 2014. GayNZ.com Being gay in South Korea. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/32/article_5801.php. [Accessed 24 March 2014].

WREN Clothing. (2014). FIRST KISS. [Online Video]. 10 March. Available from:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpbDHxCV29A. [Accessed: 23 March 2014].

Hobbs, MH, 2012. Communication, New Media and Everyday Life. 1st ed. Australia: Oxford University Press.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. tommycarroll says:

    Jake, I found this to be a very informative read on The United Colours of Benetton. It was made evident that plenty of research was put into compiling this blog. I found your choice of image and video resources to be very well analysed and completely fall under controversial advertising. I believe your statement, “where the advertisement is controversial or the signifieds overwhelm an individual, one simply forgets the true function of the image – to advertise a product”, to be very true, and is nicely supported by ‘The First Kiss’ video.

    1. jaketroncone says:

      Thanks so much for the feedback! I’ll be sure to check out your blog 🙂

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