Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Michael Bowman


This study explores how advertising and company promotion may be used to address social issues. In particular, I examine how the clothing company United Colors of Benetton attempted to position itself within the AIDS crisis. Specifically, this study investigates through case studies how the Benetton Group used activist advertising and company promotion to bring about social change concerning AIDS-related issues. I also attempt to account for the controversy that the promotion elicited through establishing the anomalous status of the company's promotion within traditional advertising efforts. The study begins with information concerning the AIDS crisis and AIDS activism and then moves to an overview of United Colors of Benetton's promotional activities. I discuss traditional fashion advertising and "shock advertising," and also review activist advertising or advertising that addresses social issues. Specific advertisements and campaigns discussed include United Colors of Benetton's 1992 David Kirby AIDS advertisement and the 1993 HIV positive advertising campaign. I begin with a description of the advertisements and then move to interpret the ads, as well as to document and account for the controversy the images inspired. Additional areas discussed include Benetton's use of condom imagery and other AIDS-related company promotion, such as safe sex materials, condom distribution, fundraising, event sponsorship, art shows, and donations. The study concludes with discussion concerning the interrelatedness of Benetton's advertising and the work of AIDS art collectives. Additionally, the final section briefly recognizes the parallels in the company's activist advertising dealing with AIDS and company promotion dealing with racial issues and world peace.