Shock advertising. Are consumer responses affected by culture? A case study on Benetton campaigns under Oliviero Toscani examining German and English responses

United Colours - United Opinions - United Cultures

Bachelor Thesis, 2006

104 Pages, Grade: First class


Table of Contents

Aims and Objectives

Research Rationale


Literature Review

Secondary data
Primary data
Pilot study
Focus groups
Research process
Chi-square analysis

Chapter one – Introduction to the advertising culture and Benettonp
The German customer and perspective on advertising
The English customer and perspective on advertising
Benetton’s advertising and finances
Oliviero Toscani’s philosophy of advertising

Chapter two – Research in Germany
Chi-Square Analysis
Shock advertising

Chapter three – Research in England
Chi-Square Analysis
Shock advertising

Chapter four – Focus group discussions in Germany and England
Impressions of the campaigns
Advertising Strategy

Chapter five – Conclusion and recommendations
Triangular comparisons and contrasting
Secondary Research
Focus Groups
Critical review of research process

Reference List

(a) Baby Campaign
(b) AIDS – David Kirby
(c) Bird campaign
(d) Hearts campaign
Questionnaire (question 6) campaigns
(e) Priest and Nun
(f) Hands
(g) HIV – Bottom
(h) Death Row
(i) Questionnaires – England and Germany
(j) Focus Groups Transcripts
(k) Chi square analysis – calculation – Germany
(l) Chi square analysis – calculation – England
(m) Email correspondence with Benetton.

List of Figures and Tables

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Table 1

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Table 2

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Table 4

List of Abbreviations

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Aim: To analyse whether consumer responses to shock advertising are affected by culture based on the Benetton campaigns under Toscani.

Objectives: (i) Analyse the techniques and impact of shock advertising by reviewing the secondary literature
(ii) Evaluate the cultural characteristics of Germany and England in relation to the perception of advertising
(iii) Analyse the impact of the selected campaigns on Benetton’s financial performance
(iv) Critically evaluate the extent to which culture influences the acceptance of shock advertising – through focus groups/questionnaires


Herbert Simon, the winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Economics, wrote:

"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."


Advertisements are information, and too many of them means consumers have to ration their attention. Consumers were exposed to 600 advertisements a day and we now to 3,000 (Study: Jupiter Research cited on /theOutlook/0010/adprolif.htm), it is obvious that the average amount of attention we pay to each will be cut proportionately.

This leads advertisers to become desperate to break through the clutter and more willing to try new ways of grabbing consumers’ attention. Benetton’s answer to this was SHOCK! Benetton used shocking graphics and socially controversial topics for their advertising campaigns. However, even though much research has been undertaken on advertising, not much has been researched about the phenomenon of shock advertising. Benetton ran these controversial campaigns on a global basis, but it is not known if potential customers from all over the world decode the message in the same way. Being a German, living in Britain has shown me that even though we live on the same continent there are huge differences in how we perceive certain issues. So is it possible that two different cultures decode and understand controversial campaigns in the same way? Initial research suggested there is little or no literature on this issue. This made this topic very interesting especially as subjects as advertising management, consumer behaviour and international marketing always have been of great interest.


This dissertation sets out to analyse whether consumer responses to shock advertising are affected by culture and offers a case study approach using Benetton’s controversial campaigns.

Benetton is one of the strongest brands (Muhkund, 2003; Ganesan, 2002) in the world and was adding to its popularity by the company’s advertising strategy (Ganesan, 2003) which was based on a shock factor addressing political and social issues.

Benetton, together with its creative director, Oliviero Toscani, who worked for Benetton from 1982-2000, is recognised for colourful and provocative campaigns. Its advertising strategy involved controversial advertising techniques and topics that used shock value in order to grab customers’ attention. Unlike most advertisements, which centre on the product or company being advertised, Benetton campaigns were focused on political and socially responsible issues such as race, child labour, death, birth, AIDS awareness, war and poverty (Pagnucco Salvemini, L. 2003). These advertising campaigns were conceived to increase brand awareness and create an image of a modern, socially responsible company (Pagnucco Salvemini, L. 2003).

Ganesan (2003) argues, this strategy was successful in the beginning but the more controversial the campaigns became, the greater the dissatisfaction from customers, retailers, government bodies and various non-profit organisations grew. In the end this led to Toscani leaving the company in 2000 and Benetton restructuring its advertising strategy. Different campaigns caused different controversies in different countries. The new-born baby campaign was banned in France, UK and Italy. The child labour and HIV campaigns were banned in Germany because it was felt that they exploited suffering (Ganesan 2002).

Despite the idea of one united Europe, a European currency and open travel across Europe, it still remains that Europe consists of different countries with different cultures. There are different views on what culture is. Rice (1993, p.242-253, cited in DeMooij, 1998) defines culture as:

“the values, attitudes, beliefs, artefacts and other meaningful symbols represented in the pattern of life adopted by people that can help them interpret, evaluate and communicate as members of a society.”

Hofstede (1991, cited in DeMooij, 1998) uses a different approach by defining culture as:

“the collective mental programming of the people in an environment. Culture is not a characteristic of individuals; it encompasses a number of people who were conditioned by the same education and life experience.”

These two definitions of culture show what encompasses culture and it could be argued that culture is a diverse factor which is hard to grasp when it comes to advertising. Usunier and Lee (2005) point out that the cultural variable is very complex and the influences on behaviour are difficult to analyse.

So how is it possible that different countries react differently to these advertising campaigns? Why are some forbidden in certain countries and not in others? Is it possible that culture affects responses to these controversial campaigns? In order to analyse these questions a triangulation research method was applied. Qualitative data was gathered through conducting focus groups in England and Germany. In order to gather quantitative data a questionnaire session was conducted before the focus group took place. The comparison of both culture’s results were then compared to findings from secondary literature which then reveals if the response to shock advertising is affected by culture and, if so, to what extent.

Literature Review

This chapter aims to analyse the literature relating to shock advertising, culture and the Benetton campaigns under direction of Oliviero Toscani. It also provides an introduction to issues and discussion relating to this area.

Evaluating current literature on shock advertising

In order to determine whether consumer responses towards shock advertising are affected by culture a literature review of materials on shock advertising, communication theory, examples of shock campaigns and cultural theories was conducted. In order to show the effectiveness of shock advertising several communication theories regarding advertising were looked at. One important model in advertising theory is the AIDA model which focuses on a common list of events that is often undergone when a person is selling a product or service (

- A - Attention - to attract the attention.
- I - Interest - to get customers interested by demonstrating its features, and benefits.
- D - Desire - convincing customers of the product's advantage.
- A - Action - to push customers towards purchasing the product.

Some added

- S - Satisfaction - to get customers satisfied so they could be repeat customers (

Research in communication and advertising showed that literature towards theories in shock advertising is very limited. Dahl et al (2003) state, “there is no academic literature that covers responses to shock advertising”. Tinics (1997), who supports this view, argues that “neither approach [anthropological approach, communication theory] is able to explain fully the Benetton phenomenon”. Evans and Riyait (1993), who researched cultural differences in reactions to the Benetton campaigns, used the two-way communication model cited in Jones (1982).

Figure 1

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This model demonstrates the importance of two-way processing between sender and receiver, and demonstrates that it is only when this common frame of reference happens that real communication takes place (Evans and Riyait, 1993). They further point out that the term communication is derived from the Latin word “commus” meaning to seek commonness, and therefore advertisers must be aware of the importance of signs and visual or linguistic usage which have a common meaning for the targeted recipients of the message, especially those working in a multicultural dimension:

“For advertising to be useful, communication between the company that originates the advertisement and the potential customer must take place. Real communication is a two-way process, requiring active participation by both the sender and the receiver of the message to facilitate the transfer of meaning.”

(Evans and Riyait, 1993, Is the Message being received? Benetton analysed, p.23)

Dahl et al (2003, p.269) argue that “shocking stimuli attract attention and facilitate … elements of cognition” which are outlined by advertising models of information processing (e.g., McGuire, 1978).

Figure 2

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Source: Dahl et al, 2003, Does it pay to shock? p.271

Adapting McGuire’s model to shock advertising, it can be assumed that after paying attention to the advert the

“shocking stimuli should facilitate message comprehension and elaboration, enhance message retention, and influence behaviour”

(Dahl et al, 2003, p.269)

When analysing the literature on shock advertising it became apparent that authors differ in their views. One view is that advertisers who create objectionable adverts may actually develop a mental link between negative images and the advertised product, leading buyers to avoid them (Gordon, 2003). This view is supported by Etcoff who is cited by Kim Gordon (2003):

“If an ad elicits negative emotions – such as disgust, fear or anger – it will pull you away from the product, causing a kind of avoidance reaction.”

A different approach is taken by Graham Harding:

“strong positioning works as a strategy for smaller brands but the danger is that when some brands try to be exhibitionists for the sake of it they can end up being a one-idea brand only. It can then mean that communications will be more important than the product itself.”

(Singh, Marketing Week, 17.07.2004, p.21)

Graham Harding (cited in Singh, Marketing Week, 17.07.2004, p.21) argues the “Death Row” campaign outraged many customers and led some retailers not to stock Benetton products such as Sears (Singh, 2003). Singh (2003) further argues that in instances such as that of Benetton the risk is that brand owners and advertising agencies expend their energy on maintaining their reputation for producing memorable advertising. This could lead to problems for Benetton as customers may remember the images but fail to remember the brands that these images represent (Singh, 2003).

Anholt (2000) says that one aspect of Benetton’s strategy involves actively repudiating an unwanted target segment of the market. In this case it is not enough to use advertising to encourage the most appropriate audience to accept the brand; it is also used to encourage the least appropriate audience to reject the brand. This view originates from the fact that Anholt (2000, p.139) does not believe that Benetton are

“literally donating their vast marketing budget to the downtrodden in society, in

a glorious karmic gesture, to the lasting benefit of each and all of us.”

Anholt (2000) sees the whole strategy behind these campaigns as using graphics and topics directly targeted at the parents of Benetton’s core target market and calculated to shock them as much as possible. As young adults tend to enjoy rebelling, according to Anholt (2000), they will enjoy their parents’ fuss and fret and will run directly into the next Benetton store and purchase one of their colourful jumpers. He continues by stating that Benetton have somehow got away with it, although trying to move people with major social issues is likely to annoy people and alienate the audience.

There are other points of view such as the one from Dahl et al (2003) who proved in their study that the shocking content in an advertisement can significantly increase attention, benefit the memory, and positively influence behaviour change, suggesting that the content of shock advertisements attempts to surprise the audience by deliberately violating societal norms. They further argue that it is the

“norm violating aspect of the shock appeal that is to assumed to underline its ability to break through advertising clutter and capture the target audience who then listens and acts on the related message.”

(Dahl et al, 2003, p.269)

Dahl et al (2003) argue that their research into reactions to shocking and non shocking advertising content among university students proves that, despite the scepticism and concern regarding the negative effects of shock advertising content, this type of communication strategy can be effective.

Shock advertising can be classed as a type of post-modern advertising which is characterised by

“rapid succession of visually appealing images, repetition, high volume, mood setting and is much more symbolic and persuasive than informative”

(Cortese, A. 1999, Provocateur – Images of women and minorities in advertising, p.7)

This becomes obvious when looking at several campaigns such as the Benetton ones which are highly symbolic and rarely have a link to their product range.

Literature on this topic encompassed several advertising campaigns that can be classified as shock advertising such as Calvin Klein, Barnados and United Colours of Benetton. The most interesting and controversial are the Benetton Campaigns under the direction of Oliviero Toscani who aimed their campaigns at social conscience (Lloyd, 2001).

Ganesan (2002) takes this statement further by arguing that “unlike most advertisements which centred around a company’s product or image, Benetton’s advertising campaigns addressed social and political issues” instead of their product. For some companies this might be a problem; however, Benetton recognised that “consumers are as concerned by what a company stands for as they are about the price/value relationship of that company’s product” (Benetton, 1992 cited in Giroux, 1994) and tried to turn this fact to their advantage.

Benetton, who took a global approach with cultural sensitivities in their advertising campaigns (Katsanis, 1994), caused serious controversy in different countries as researched by Ganesan (2002) who states that over the years print media in different countries refused to print Benetton advertisements. Benetton reserved some space for the David Kirby – HIV advertisement in Elle but was rejected by the publisher. The magazine instead published a letter explaining its decision over the double page that was reserved for the advertisement (Back, Quaade, 1993). Toscani was angry with the British editor of Elle and put it down to British hypocrisy (Back, Quaade, 1993). However a German magazine ‘Stern’ even fought in court to publish forbidden Benetton campaigns (Wesner, 2000) which shows they had supporters. Nevertheless in 1995 government authorities in Germany banned Benetton advertisements featuring child labourers, the human body stamped “HIV Positive” and a bird stuck in an oil slick. These were banned as they exploited suffering. Ganesan (2002) continues that the newborn baby advertisement was withdrawn from the media in Italy, France and UK. Hartwig (2000) argues that the Benetton campaigns were discussed and judged in Germany more than in other countries. The Benetton communication chief, Laura Pollini apologized on British television ‘We are very surprised and sorry that we have created a problem’ (Mantle, 2000). However, the more the company’s advertisements were banned, the more Benetton received publicity (Ganesan, 2002). Benetton was also sued by many of its German retail outlets that believed the provocative advertisements drove away customers by stating:

“We are talking about two different arenas here. If Benetton wanted to underwrite some cause, we’d be supportive. But we’re trying to sell products. At this point everyone should know what Benetton is. But we still find a lot of people who know the name but don’t know what we sell.”

Ganesan, 2002, p. 58

This is, however, debatable as Giroux (1994) argues Benetton’s increase in sales, profits and global publicity resulted from these controversial campaigns. Benetton, spent 3.5% of its revenue on advertising and communication (Benetton, balance sheet, 1996), whereas GAP, its competitor spent 3.2% of its revenue on advertising (GAP, balance sheet, 1996). Benetton gained much free publicity from the extensive and controversial coverage of the campaigns (Tinic, 1997) and seems to have benefited in international sales as profits rose by 25% in 1990, 24% in 1991 and 12% in 1992 (1993, Reuter Asia-Pacific Business Report, 1992, Economist, 1992, New York Times).

Benetton pursued its shock advertising strategy on a global basis as its main topics included racial harmony and world peace (Giroux, 1994), topics which affect the whole world. Benetton was creating one global stimulus for different cultures, expecting to receive similar responses; however, this is only possible if the receiver and sender share the same culture (De Mooij, 1998). If they do not share the culture it is likely that the intended and expected response will fail to emerge (De Mooij, 1998). De Mooij (1998) explains this paradox by stating that many products and services worldwide are consumed by global target markets. These products and services, as well as their advertising, are standardised for cost efficiency reasons, but although, products might be similar buying motives can vary greatly. It is further argued that much is written on cost efficiency of production and advertising but very little is available on effectiveness of standardised advertising, which is unsurprising as there is little research into how advertising works (De Mooij, 1998). Tinic (1997, p.10) disagrees, stating that Benetton still believes that

“Benetton’s global advertising success is that the company believes that politically loaded imagery is more conductive to cross cultural sales than is climate specific clothing.”

Tinic (1997, p.10) cites Levitt (1986, p.27) for offering an answer to these conflicting ideas:

“global travel and communication have created a new ‘Republic of Technology’ which has homogenized world tastes, wants, and possibilities into global market proportions”.

De Mooij and Hofsetede (2002, p.62) oppose this view:

“International marketers would like us to believe that in the “new Europe” with a single currency, consumers will become more similar, will increasingly eat the same food, wear jeans and cross trainers, and watch the same television programs. Reality is likely to be different.”

One example for this is the view on advertising. Anholt (2000) cites a survey from 1998 showing that more than 75% of British people find advertising entertaining and more than 80% think it is useful to consumers, whereas in Germany only 30% think it has a positive impact and more than 80% find it boring.

This survey result can possibly be linked to the different perceptions and expectations of advertising in these two countries. Anholt (2000) argues that Britons are highly marketing-literate and expect and are prepared to spend time on decoding cleverly encoded advertising messages, understanding images and reading copy. Therefore British advertisements are based on creativity (Anholt, 2000). However, German expectations of advertising focus on the primary function of giving reliable and factual information on products or services. For many Germans fun or emotions in advertising raise suspicion of the product not being worthwhile, as the advertiser has nothing special to say about it or even tries to hide some features by distracting the audience from the actual product. Therefore one could expect that Germans have strong viewpoints on the Benetton campaigns.

Research has shown that culture influences consumer patterns (Eshghi and Sheth, 1985); however, the strength of the influence depends on the product type, category, situational factors and reasons for purchase. One could conclude from this that culture influences how customers buy and what they buy, although this is contradictory to companies running global advertising campaigns, as this clearly suggests that customers worldwide decode advertising in the same way. Usunier and Lee (2005), however, warn that one should not equate the behaviour of customers with the cultural grouping they belong to.

This leads to the questions, were Benetton’s campaigns received in the intended way throughout different cultures or was the message getting lost in the cross cultural communication process? To what extent does culture influence the acceptance of shock advertising? This dissertation aims to provide possible solutions to these questions by using questionnaires and conducting focus groups in England and Germany on consumer responses to Benetton’s advertising campaigns.


This chapter aims to explain the approach and

techniques selected for this research process.


The aim of this methodology is to explain and justify the research methods that were chosen in order to analyse whether the reaction to shock advertising is affected by culture. The first step was to conduct secondary research in order to gather knowledge on the subject, as well as to determine what data should be gathered through the primary research process. Before explaining the chosen research methods it is important to understand what is meant by secondary data and primary data.

Secondary data

Secondary research can be defined as:

“Data which already exists in some form, having been collected for a different purpose, perhaps even by a different organisation, and which might be useful in solving a current problem.”

(Brassington and Pettitt, 2003, p.1108)

This data can be categorised into two different groups: internal data and external data. Internal data is based on data from within an organisation such as company reports or accounting reports whereas external data is information published outside the organisation, including journals, books, newspapers and research reports. One of the great advantages of secondary research is pointed out in Brassington and Pettitt (2003) who state that this type is very cost effective, quick to access and may provide the opportunity to gather information which one might not have the resources to gather oneself.

The author carried out secondary research through academic textbooks, journals, newspaper articles, court cases and company publications. These all proved to be useful in grasping the complexity of shock advertising. These were accessed through several websites. The BCFTCS college’s library website with its Athens access, especially the Thomas Gale publication database, proved to be very useful. Websites that proved to be informative were the homepage of Benetton (, Google scholar ( and the student Athens account. However, when using the internet one has to question the reliability of the sources.

After analysing the findings of secondary research it became obvious that there was a research gap. In order to achieve the aim of this paper, primary data in relation to this needed to be gathered.

Primary data

Primary research is often referred to as field research, as the data does not exist anywhere else and the researcher needs to go out and collect it.

Collins (2003, p.160) understands primary data to be data which is collected at source. Examples include survey data, obtained through asking questions and making observations, and experimental data, gathered through a controlled experimental process.

A triangulation method approach was chosen as this allowed the author to gather quantitative data (through a questionnaire) and qualitative data (through focus groups).


With nearly every form of research it is impossible to question every member of the population; therefore a sample representing a certain group needs to be decided on.

There are two ways of choosing a sample: random and non random. Random sampling is understood as a method that allows every sampling unit to have the same chance of being selected (White, 2000). This method is preferred for gathering statistical analysis with an accurate sampling frame. Non random sampling is mostly used in qualitative research where the researcher samples with a definite purpose, and therefore the sampling is subjective (White, 2000). For this dissertation non random sampling was selected, more particularly, purposive sampling. Purposive sampling is also referred to as judgemental sampling, as the researcher picks the sample that best delivers the information needed to satisfy the research objectives. The sample for the questionnaire aspect consisted of 30 participants aged 20-25, business studies students, male and female as The Economist’s suggested in 1997 that a number of 30 participants would be useful (cited in Saunders et al, 2003) for gathering statistical data.

The age group corresponds with Benetton’s target market [upwardly mobile and educated 18- to 34-year-olds, (Tinic, 1997).], whereas the profession does not play an important role, being selected in order to ensure the best possible comparison and in order to avoid sampling units which have a different involvement with the campaign issues due to work influences such as social work, advertising or artistic work. Out of these 30 participants a selection of members for the focus group (8 members) was made. After the evaluation of the questionnaire the members with the strongest views on the research objectives were selected in order to ensure different viewpoints and an interesting discussion. This focus group would support the findings from the questionnaire session.

Pilot study

A pilot study was carried out in advance in order to ensure that all questions were clear and easy to understand. This session was carried out with a small sample of people and helped to remove ambiguity and conduct a smooth-running focus group. The German pilot study resulted in minor changes to the questionnaire regarding the order of the questions. The pilot study for the focus group ran successfully, although it proved that the estimated time of 45 minutes was not enough and therefore had to be extended to a minimum of 60 minutes.

The English pilot study showed similar results. The questionnaire did not require any changes as previous changes had already been incorporated. However, the timeframe was a slightly shorter 45 minutes due to the English group not being as open and willing to discuss the shocking issues. The sample had strict opinions on the campaigns and was disinterested in other people’s opinions.

Focus groups

A focus group interview is a structured group process which for this dissertation was conducted for the purpose of obtaining detailed information on whether responses to shock advertising are affected by culture. The author conducted two focus groups, one in Germany and one in England. The focus groups were mainly of a supportive nature towards the statistical data gathered in the questionnaire session.

Conducting a focus group has several advantages as shown on

Focus groups can be relatively easy to undertake and they are useful in gathering several opinions at one time. This form of research produces complex answers due to the snowballing, interactive synergy and spontaneity within the group and the author also has the chance to direct the discussion in order to avoid drifting off the topic. Collins (2003, p.167) argues that focus groups combine interviewing and observing which is an important factor as it is also important to see how the group is working together.

Group synergy is very important as the organiser has to ensure that not one member is dominating the discussion or staying silent in the process, although a focus group provides the author with less control compared to interviews. Selecting the group members non randomly helped to cope with this issue. This type of research also produces a huge amount of data which can cause some difficulty in analysis, therefore the questionnaires provide quantifiable data which is easier to analyse. In order to capture this huge amount of data the focus groups were taped. The discussion, based on views towards a selection of four Benetton campaigns, was analysed in the form of a content analysis. Content analysis is defined by Collins (2003) as an approach to systematically convert text or other data into numerical variables for quantitative data analysis. For this research process it means that the focus group transcripts were analysed and a coding frame constructed which lists coding units vertically and the analysis of communication on the horizontal axis.

Coding units consist of value adding adjectives which express strong viewpoints on the campaigns such as “disgusting”, “disturbing” or “imaginative”.

The transcripts (Appendix J) were then analysed for frequency of these value adding adjectives conforming to the coding frame. By comparing the coding frames of both countries the researcher gains an insight into how consumers respond to shock advertising campaigns.

Research process

The author started out with secondary research in order to gather information on the dissertation’s subject while focussing on achieving the aim and objectives. The whole research process was carried out in the native language of the respondents in order to avoid limitations due to language barriers. The results were translated back into English for data analysis.

Questionnaire session

The questionnaire session, which was carried out before the focus group discussion, consisted of questions relating to shock advertising as well as culture. The respondents were asked to determine what factors are understood to reflect what shock advertising actually is, as well as what is understood by culture. The offered selection of possible answers for the term ‘culture’ and ‘cultural values’ was inspired by Mercado (2001) and the shock advertising options were inspired by Pagnucco Salvemini (2003) and Mukund (2003). In these two questions the respondents were asked to tick boxes as a closed question approach was preferred for evaluation reasons. After two basic introduction questions the respondents were introduced to four Benetton campaigns – HIV, Bird, Hearts and Baby (Appendix A-D) - and asked to rate them under certain viewpoints on a scale of 0-100, chosen in order to receive quantitative data which could show the degree of emotions towards the campaigns. The respondents were also asked to describe the campaigns in one sentence each, in order to gain qualitative data. The respondents were asked to rate e.g. the importance of cultural factors, which aimed to find possible reasons for different perspectives on the campaigns. One question of the questionnaire consisted of showing the sample one campaign and providing them with four possible meanings of the campaign. The sample group ticked one meaning they thought was the Benetton’s intended message; only one of these, however, was correct, the other three were incorrect. This allowed the researcher to see whether both countries could decode the campaigns in the same way or whether there were differences and, if so, to what extent. The questionnaire ended with a general question on the buying behaviour towards Benetton after seeing these campaigns.

This process was carried out before the group discussion in both countries and was analysed with Excel-tables - important functions were modus, average and the chi-square analysis. The chi-square analysis shows whether a link between responses and campaigns exists. The purpose of this research was to gather quantitative data on Benetton’s advertising campaign and it also proved to be a strong base for the focus group discussion. Conducting focus groups and carrying out questionnaire sessions also allowed the researcher to check his data and see whether respondents kept to their opinion.

Chi-square analysis

A chi-square analysis

“allows us to establish how confident we can be that there is a relationship between the two variables in a population.”

(Bryman, A. 2003, p.253)

The formula used for this analysis is: Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Reuschenbach, 2005)

It is expected that countries respond in the same way and conform to the intended message of Benetton, as otherwise the company would not run its advertising campaigns standardised on a global basis. This research method compares the expected results to the gathered data in order to determine whether they conform or if a difference arises. This type of analysis can determine whether or not there is a link between the responses to shock advertising and the actual campaign, which becomes interesting when comparing both countries with each other.

Chapter One Introduction to the advertising culture and Benetton

This chapter aims to introduce the advertising culture in Germany and in England and in particular the different consumer attributes. It also summarises the approach towards advertising that Benetton is pursuing and introduces the man behind the controversial campaigns – Oliviero Toscani

The German customer and perspective on advertising

The Geert Hofstede analysis for Germany shows its emphasis on individualism, masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance. Power distance and long-term orientation are both ranked considerably lower than the others. This illustrates Germany’s belief in equality and opportunity for each citizen, as well as its ability to change and adapt rapidly. This is shown in the following graph:

Figure 3

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Source: _germany.shtml),

The German thought process is extremely thorough, with each aspect of a project being examined in great detail. This process is often very time-intensive, however once the planning is over, a project will move quickly and deadlines are expected to be honoured _germany.shtml), Germans do not like surprises, sudden changes in business, even if they may improve the outcome, are unwelcome. Business is viewed as being very serious, and Germans do not appreciate humour in a business context.

As mentioned above Germany has a high level of uncertainty avoidance (score of 65 – Hofstedes index, _germany.shtml), this shows that Germans feel uneasy if they get a feeling of uncertainty which is reflected in their perspective on advertising.

In Germany only 30% think advertising has a positive impact and more than 80% find it simply boring (Anholt, 2000). Contrary to this, German expectation on advertising focuses on the primary function of giving reliable and factual information in advertisements (Anholt, 2000). Germans also take pride in technical products manufactured in Germany (Usunier, 2005) and like to be associated with these internationally. Another factor reflecting the German culture is earnestness (Usunier, 2005), which shows why Germans do not enjoy funny and surreal advertisements.

The English customer and perspective on advertising

The Geert Hofstede analysis for England illustrates strong ambitions towards individualism and masculinity. Power distance and uncertainty avoidance are ranked remarkably lower than the first two. Long-term orientation ranks the lowest, meaning that change in England can be achieved easily (

Figure 4

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: _uk.shtml),

Privacy is very important to English people, therefore asking personal questions or staring at another person should be avoided. Business attire rules are to a certain extent relaxed in England ( .htm). Anholt (2000) cites a survey from 1998 that showed that more than 75% of British people find advertising entertaining and more than 80% think it is useful to consumers. Anholt (2000) argues that Britons are highly marketing-literate and expect and are prepared to spend time on decoding cleverly encoded advertising messages, understanding images and reading copy. Therefore British advertisements are based on creativity (Anholt, 2000). One could argue that advertising is seen as art as opposed to simply giving information on products. The approach to advertising is also reflected in Hofstede’s scores. The British Uncertainty Index is remarkably lower with 35 than the German (65) which explains that the British can accept a certain level of uncertainty which appears through creative aspects such as humour. How both countries differ in Hofstede’s scores is shown in the following diagram.

Figure 5

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Source: Mercado et al, 2001, p.462

Benetton’s advertising and finances

From the early 1980s onwards Benetton called its advertisement strategy communication strategy as they believed

“…that it is important for companies to take a stance in the real world instead of using their advertising budget to perpetuate the myth that they can make consumers happy through the mere purchase of their product. The company has opted for a communication strategy in which issues and not clothes play the lead part.”

( cited in Ganesan, 2003, Benetton Group – Evolution of a Communication Strategy)

Benetton themselves explain their campaigns on their website (http://www.benetton as

“…not only a means of communication but an expression of our time. Through their universal impact, they have succeeded in attracting the attention of the public and in standing out amid the current clutter of images.”

The campaigns gathered several awards (Art Directors Club of Europe - gold year: 1991(Germany), Cresta International Advertising Awards) but at the same time they aroused strong reactions – “at times ferocious, at times simply curious, confirming once again that they are always a focal point of discussion and of confrontation of ideas” (

Looking at the four campaigns used for this research (Appendix A-D) the following will investigate in their impact on the financial performance of the company. It was tried to gather the financial information directly from Benetton, Italy, however this was not available as Appendix M shows. Therefore it had to be referred to data from secondary sources.


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Shock advertising. Are consumer responses affected by culture? A case study on Benetton campaigns under Oliviero Toscani examining German and English responses
United Colours - United Opinions - United Cultures
University of Birmingham
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This thesis analyses the impact of culture on the perception of advertising. I chose to compare and contrast English and German repsonses to Benetton campaigns under Toscani. The research process included secondary research as well as primary research. Primary research consisted of focus groups in both countries as well as questionnaires. Chi-square anlaysis was used as one method of analysing the gather data next to content analysis.
United, Colours, United, Opinions, United, Cultures, Benetton, Oliviero, Toscani, German, English
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Kerstin Holz (Author), 2006, Shock advertising. Are consumer responses affected by culture? A case study on Benetton campaigns under Oliviero Toscani examining German and English responses, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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