In the Spring of 1992, Benetton embarked on an extremely controversial ad campaign that focused on one of the most widely-recognized taboos in the world: the AIDS virus.
David Kirby, an AIDS activist and sufferer, was photographed on his death bed, surrounded by his family, for LIFE magazine. Benetton was given permission from David's parents to show it all over the world in this campaign.
In some countries, such as Paraguay, this was the first advertising campaign to publicly discuss AIDS and in most countries it was the first to show the actual victims of the disease (10).
Of course, the fact that David happens to somewhat resemble Christ, and became known as a 'pieta' only added to the success (and the many protests) for this campaign.
The campaign to educate the public about AIDS continued with a series of three images, a forearm, lower abdomen, and a backside, all stamped with the words "H.I.V. Positive." These were meant to show people the ways to contract the virus.
Benetton also used the famous "AIDS Ribbon" in an ad.
Another image that won several international awards was the one called "Faces of AIDS" in which over 1000 young people are in a large group photo, and then it was computer edited so that it spelled out "AIDS" just light enough so you can barely make it out.
One of Benetton's many worldwide projects fighting against AIDS and HIV took place in France in the Summer of 1993. On World AIDS Day, the 1st of December 1993, Benetton and group ACT UP PARIS (a liberal, militant group), placed a giant pink condom (22 meters high and 3.5 wide)on the obelisk in Place de la Concorde in central Paris in order to force the to understand the reality of the disease. A symbolic monument to prevention from infection, it appeared on the cover of newspapers and magazines worldwide (2).
Continuing with the prevention aspect of the campaign, Benetton decided that having ads featuring condoms would accomplish two goals: get them out into the mainstream culture and demystify them by displaying them like a fashion accessory. Condoms were also given away free at United Colors of Benetton stores.
For those interested in worldwide sporting events, such as World Cup soccer or the Olympics, a special version of the condom advertisements was issued:
Not surprisingly, this campaign, like so many other Benetton campaigns, was met with controversy. The older, more conservative population thought it was inappropriate subject matter, but the younger generation embraced the campaign whole-heartedly. In the U.S. the image was censored by the media, because it was deemed "pornographic" and thus inappropriate for distribution through traditional press outlets, such as supermarkets (8).