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Benetton Eyes Growth in U.S.

After paring down its U.S. retail fleet years ago, Benetton has kept a low profile.

Alessandro Benetton and the winners of  the global casting campaign.

NEW YORK — After paring its U.S. retail fleet years ago, Benetton has kept a low profile. But last week, the Italian fashion firm stepped out with a party in the Meatpacking District’s Boom Boom Room to spotlight the winners of the global online casting session for the fall ad campaign, “It’s My Time,” and hinted Benetton may get some second wind Stateside.

This story first appeared in the April 22, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“The U.S. is very competitive and requires a specific strategy,” Alessandro Benetton, vice president of the retailer, told WWD when asked if Benetton was ready for a comeback. “We are considering some alternative in terms of a specific plan for the U.S. It would have to be a retail concept.” He declined to be more specific.

According to another Benetton source, the company is “definitely looking at new initiatives in the market. It could be renovations or expanding stores, or something else. It’s about finding the right formula.”

In the Eighties, Benetton peaked in the U.S. at 600 stores. The count is down to about 100 units, either company-owned or franchised. Benetton was also notorious for its controversial advertising, addressing war, religion, hunger and illness in ways that some consumers found offensive and could have contributed to the downsizing.

The latest campaign, while not controversial, is still unorthodox. During the global online casting session, 70,000 photos of model wannabes from around the world were uploaded to the Benetton Web site from Feb. 8 to March 16. One hundred finalists were chosen by the Web community, and the final 20 faces were chosen by a jury of experts for the campaign, being created under the guidance and lens of British photographer Josh Olins. Young people were encouraged to convey their style and personality through videos and photographs. High-tech tools will be used in advertising for the campaign, enhanced with interactive and augmented reality, blending the real with the virtual.

All but one of the 20 finalists made it to the Boom Boom Room. “We had one from Iran who could not get into the country. I do not know the reason,” Benetton said.

As for the upcoming campaign, he believes it follows the Benetton tradition. “I think when Benetton was considered provocative, it was the first company to raise social issues. Now we see more entities doing this, and I still think Benetton has a commitment to being innovative,” he said. “Yesterday, it meant being provocative. Today, it’s about finding the common ground between generations and technologies. This campaign has the basic values that have always been behind Benetton — respectful diversity — and building strong motivation for open dialogue.”