Can Oliviero Toscani be the Steve Jobs of Benetton?

Benetton Oliviero Toscani

United Colors of Benetton brand is one of the best examples how content alone can greatly improve the business performance. United colors of Benetton founder Luciano Benetton collaborated with a photographer and creative director Oliviero Toscani on building the United colors of Benetton brand from a local competitor to a global leader. Toscani’s photography – the content – avoided products and focused on global social issues such as racism, HIV, and war.

This way Toscani added a soft value to all of United colors of Benetton products and increased their sales. The logo, designed by Massimo Vignelli, connected the messages in the photography to the products. Customers who bought the products would feel that they are participating in the campaigns for the global change. The added value was so well accepted that United colors of Benetton became one of the top casual fashion brands in the world relatively quickly. Interbrand best global brands for 2000 lists it as a second casual brand behind Gap.

Collaboration with Toscani has ended in 2001 after the controversial Death Row campaign, and United Colors of Benetton brand has immediately started loosing its position.

16 years later, on 30 November 2017, Benetton Group announced in a press release that Oliviero Toscani has started again working with United colors of Benetton. His work focused on the issue of social integration which Toscani defined as a crucial global issue today, replicating his soft value method which brought success to Benetton previously.

The United Colors of Benetton history proves an undeniable connection between the know-how of a single person and a success of a brand. The most notable similar story is that of Steve Jobs and Apple. Jobs also understood and used the soft values, took risks, and was highly supported but also misunderstood by the management. His presence showed growth, his exit resulted in failure, and his return again brought growth.

We have to wait and see if Toscani has been given the same power he had when he worked with Luciano Benetton, now retired from the CEO position, and if he can bring United Colors of Benetton close to previous results, and become Benetton’s Steve Jobs.