Ads for Life

United Colors of Benetton--the company that has leveraged AIDS, racism, and other weighty issues to move merchandise--has now earned a lot of people's ire with their recent ad campaign featuring interviews with and pictures of death-row inmates. Sears, for example, pulled all brands owned by global parent company Benetton--including such disparate items as Rollerblades, Nordica ski boots, and Prince tennis rackets--in response to the advertisements.

Now the California Assembly is getting involved. Decrying the ads as "pathetic glamorization of heinous criminals," House Leader Scott Baugh (R-67th district) drafted a resolution in March urging all Golden State residents to boycott Benetton until they kill their current campaign. The bill passed 59-8.

While decidedly opposed to the death penalty, the campaign is slightly more nuanced than Baugh would lead us to suspect. Benetton's interviewer has written an accompanying essay, available at benetton.com/deathrow, in which he explains that he "fantasized about doing [the inmates] violence" because their crimes were so vile, and that he sometimes felt they "deserved to die."

So is the campaign a "sick" and "cynical" marketing ploy that glamorizes murderers, or, as Benetton claims, simply an "innovative mode of corporate communication"? Or both? Neither? Whatever it is, nothing the California Assembly does is likely to make the matter any clearer.

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