Toscani: The Opposition Leader

NEW YORK The only way to create standout advertising is to ignore everything that a marketing director says, said Oliviero Toscani, the creator of Benetton’s famously controversial ads, at the first Saatchi & Saatchi Hero Show at the Clio Festival in Miami on Saturday.

“Listen carefully to what the marketing people say and just do the opposite,” he said, to the delight of the mostly creative crowd. “And you are sure to do something different from what everybody else does.”

The photographer and co-founder of Colors magazine gave an impassioned speech that stressed non-conformity and no fear. Introducing Toscani, Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, explained the concept behind the Saatchi & Saatchi Clio Hero Show. “Heroes are those larger than life people who inspire us and challenge us, push us to feel uncomfortable,” he said.

Toscani, however, countered Isherwood’s terminology. “You said we need heroes for our imagination,” he said. “Actually we need imagination, that’s it. It’s not difficult to be creative, just be yourself.”

Toscani, who lives in Tuscany, Italy, where he breeds horses and produces olive oil, divided the world into two types of people: creative and non-creative. “The human race is divided into two classes: people who are creative, and people who are not. The human and inhuman,” he said, as he joked with the audience that they were not listening to him, but instead looking at the images of his work behind him.

The work included some of his most famous United Colors of Benetton ads—a nun and priest kissing, a dying AIDS patient, prisoners on death row, a newly born baby with umbilical cord still intact—as well as often graphic images from Colors and his editorial work for magazines such as Talk.

“True creative people are rare, they are a tiny minority oppressed … Only truly creative people have no fear of creativity,” he said. Most, he explained, “cut it down, don’t go too far. The non-creative people … try to curb it because they know that creativity gives rise to new ideas that sooner or later they will have to come to terms with.”

The non-creative people, he said, are the bureaucrats that exist to “cut down to a level of mediocrity every idea that is not stupid enough to gain consensus,” he said. “That is actually the biggest problem, the biggest enemy of creativity.”

“What is creativity?” Toscani asked. “Creativity is semblance of intelligence and sensitivity. It is the opportunity that potentially lies between our hearts and our brain.”

Insecurity helps breed creativity. “You shouldn’t be afraid to be insecure because there is no such thing as security and creativity,” he said. “You shouldn’t be afraid to be insecure. You are probably your most creative when you are feeling most insecure.”

Most importantly, he said, “creativity requires energy and courage.” Toscani implored those in the audience to take responsibility for their creativity and dare to be different. “Provocation is a sign of generosity,” he said. “It allows the viewer to see something from another angle. Without provocation, there is no art.”