A screenshot of the United Colours of Benetton video ad. | Twitter @benetton_india
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New Delhi: United Colours of Benetton, a multinational brand known for bizarre adverts, split Indian social media this week with its voting pitch for Delhiites: Close-up shots of purported politicians spewing bigotry and a message that seemed to target the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.

The video ad features leaders saying things like “I will build a masjid”, “I will build a temple”, and “I will give you money for your votes”.

The camera is almost continuously focused on their mouths and teeth, with the footage intercut by flashing shots of a revolving chair — sometimes empty, sometimes with a silhouette seated in it.

It was accompanied by a print ad, published in newspapers, with an equally provocative message: “They made us believe that it was their duty/to decide what we should eat and what we should not/What we should wear and what we should not,” reads the first half.

The backdrop features a woman holding her voter ID as she looks fiercely into the camera.

While some people expressed support for the message, others were not so impressed with the delivery of the video ad.

Benetton India chief executive officer Sundeep Chugh said the campaign had proved a success.

“The message to the voter is, you know, get out of all this [community-, bribery-based appeals for votes],” he said. “Just don’t look at things which are being said to actually influence you which are not really relevant. Don’t take those things into consideration. Just go out and vote.”

He added that the ad was not meant to target any particular political parties.

“Honestly, we have not looked into any political parties. We were just looking at the things being prominently debated and discussed,” he said.

‘Not a political issue’

United Colours of Benetton is a multinational clothing company with over 900 stores in India alone.

Although this ad pitch perhaps marks the first time it has weighed in on politics in India, it isn’t unusual for Benetton, as it is more familiarly called, to put out provocative advertisements.

In its early days, the shock value of Benetton’s ads was the lifeblood of its campaign strategy. Its most controversial ads include photoshopped images of world leaders kissing each other, and the iconic photograph of a dying AIDS man surrounded by his grieving family.

Asked why Benetton cares about Delhiites going out to vote, Chugh hesitated before saying, “It’s all about being a socially-responsible brand. It’s not a political issue, for us, it’s more a specific event that we want people to positively participate in, and help them to discount what they are hearing around and urge them to do more research.

“We did not look at it from the point of view that it is an election, or that it is political,” he added. “We thought this is the most talked-about thing in the world, and we wanted to contribute to it.”

Anirban Mouzamdar, chief executive officer of branding consultancy Chlorophyll, told ThePrint that to “use topicality” rather than come up with new ideas was an effective marketing tool.

Get-out-the-vote campaigns like Benetton’s will likely have negligible effect on voter turnout, but does a good job of impressing its existence upon the consumer, he added.

“If there is enough communication between the brand and consumer, they will remember the brand through important events,” Mouzamdar said.

Chugh denied the campaign had anything to do with branding, and repeated that Benetton saw its participation in election discourse as a “social responsibility”, a bid to encourage “voters to look past the popular narrative and do more research”.

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