For this blog I was asked to select a topic related to the country where I was born. That country is accidentally Italy, and I’d like to dedicate this post to a remarkable (in positive and negative) figure in Italian advertising: Oliviero Toscani.
Oliviero Toscani became internationally renowned for his controversial ads for the Italian fashion house Benetton, with whom he started collaborating in 1982 and which lasted 18 years. His ads have always been highly provocative and played on the juxtaposition of very strong images, depicting intense human moments, and the logo of a brand. Many people were disturbed by his campaigns and Toscani has been strongly criticized. This did not stop him, as he never looked for consensus, but rode the wave of disapproval instead.
He defined his campaigns for Benetton to be anti marketing and his style in between advertising and reportage.
Nun and priest kissing.
His images revolutionized the traditional advertising system. They didn´t feature any product, they focused instead on promoting a series of social issues.
About the advertising for Benetton, he says:
“These companies are all the same, their products are the same, more or less they cost the same. Let´s take away everything and let´s do a campaign where there is no product, just an idea. People do remember the idea, and they combine the idea with the intelligence of the label. We tried and it worked. Everybody did start to understand that advertising is not just pushing a product, it’s not just consumption. But it is an important communication system.”
And inregards to his campaign anti anorexia:
“You see, when you touch the human condition, humanity responds. I want to portrait what exists but we don’t want to look at. There are people who, when they look at a picture, they get angry at the picture. But they should get angry with themselves for not having the courage to look into the problem”.
Toscani´s career is very arguable.
Many people consider him a legendary photographer, who survived government bans and international protests (in 2000 he triggered a huge furor in the US with his campaign against death penalty).
Others think that his campaigns are mediocre, they feature cheap analogies and that his provocations became over the years inadequate and ineffective. An average communicator, but extremely good at exploiting circumstances.
What is certain is that Toscani built a very credible and strong image of himself, and that makes him one of the most prominent figures in advertising photography and Italian culture.