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Could an amped up digital strategy give Benetton shoppers a dose of ‘dolce vita’?

Benetton took a ground-breaking approach with gritty advertising in the 1980s and 1990s. Now more than 50 years old, it remains an affordable, but aspirational brand, offering a taste of colourful Italian design in a very competitive market place.

As a result, news that Benetton is poised to make a return to London’s Oxford Street with the opening of a 15,300 square foot flagship store got me thinking. How could a digital strategy help the brand stand out against its new High Street competitors?

Well it looks like it’s already started with the new ‘The Face of the City’ campaign, featuring faces representing women from London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Milan and Berlin. The brand has photographed women from different racial groups in each capital city and then combined the photos using an algorithm which ensured the “proportion of each ethnicity was reflected through features such as skin tone, the shape of eyes and nose, hair type and colour, as well as overall face shape.” The composite models appear in Benetton clothes next to text proclaiming ‘This is the face of Berlin’ or ‘This is the face of London’ for example.

It’s an exciting, bold campaign and reminds me of the controversial and headline-grabbing ads of the 80s. When I was at school having anything Benetton meant you were a cool kid. Those ‘United Colours of Benetton’ ads created a certain frisson around the brand and Italians also have style in buckets. Us Brits could have a taste of that via the brand and feel like we’d been kissed by the Italian style gods.

I now really want to see some clever engaging instore use of digital. The brand has done some interesting stuff in recent years, like working with Italian interior designer Piero Lissoni to restyle the interiors of major stores, plus the Miami flagship store got an injection of South Beach retro style with a fresh, fun pastel palette. But I think they could do a lot more with digital in the main London store in Regent Street and remind us why we loved the brand in the first place.

Digital big news for retail

Digital is clearly big news for retail. Digital design is a great way to make a retail environment an energising place to be. A static digital screen simply saying ‘new season’ next to a display of clothes isn’t enough. Benetton has done some great in-store digital signs in the past and I loved their work, but I feel like they could be making more of digital in their stores at the moment.

Benetton has an incredible brand heritage. They could turn the coloured panels that appear in every store into digital panels, complete with vibrant artistic installations which could display moving phrases like the ‘United Colours of London’. They need to look at their brand identity and vision – do they want to talk about their heritage or not? And of course personalising each store, like the Miami one, where digital screens could have enhanced that South Beach vibe with art deco references or sun-drenched, beach scenes rolling across the screens, would add to the atmosphere and experience.

When we worked with Oasis on their flagship Argyle Street store in London, we knew they had a story to tell and digital installations helped us do this. We brought tech into the heart of the shopping experience with innovative animations appearing throughout the store. This included an iconic digital installation behind the cash desk (encased in period-style window frames) allowing customers to peek into changing seasons in a beautiful digital garden, to a wall full of portraits stretching from floor to ceiling accompanying the journey of the escalator, with many other digital touch points to excite and engage.

Oasis wants to make its customers smile and this bold in-store approach enhanced the brand’s unique personality and captured its fun essence. Beyond digital we also created a soundscape to reflect the brand. Rather than relying on chart hits, Oasis wanted its own sound – feminine hip goodness. This is also something that Benetton could learn from. When I recently visited, a generic dance sound was playing throughout the store. Surely parents shopping the kid’s floor would be keen to listen to something different to what might be playing on the men’s floor?

I’d love to see what Benetton does with this major flagship store. I really hope it remains true to its daring brand heritage, but makes it absolutely on point and gives savvy shoppers what they expect from a fashion retail experience: something that stimulates, invigorates and resonates with their needs. If Benetton can use this flagship Regent Street store to give us a little bit of ‘la dolce vita’ I’m sure it will make shoppers pay attention.

By Aisha Nanor, head of music & digital initiatives, Kaleidovision

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