Perhaps, with apologies to Dale Carnegie, we should call this article: "How to make enemies AND influence people."
The subject: United Colors of Benetton's campaign to promote its clothing, using photos and stories about death row prisoners in U.S. It's what journalist James Bone of Times of London called "latest in a string of deliberately provocative campaigns".
In an age when most advertisers try their hardest to avoid offending anyone, this company takes a clearly contrarian approach. A cynic might call it a cheap trick to get attention and free media coverage (like this article). But, Benetton has run campaigns like this for quite some time, and important communication lessons come out of them, regardless of how we feel about subject matter.
Let's start with focus. Obviously, if company willingly offends moral sensibilities of many potential customers, it must focus on a particular part of market, specifically people with liberal social and political attitudes.
In marketing terms, that suggests Benetton segments with psychographic criteria. Psychographics refers to lifestyles, values, and attitudes of consumers, including social and political viewpoints.
Given that it has run campaigns like this one for some 20 years, we have to believe that Benetton knows this segment well and focuses on it intently.
Turning to positioning, just about every other clothing company uses warm and fuzzy advertising themes. Advertising that makes you feel good about yourself because you look good, which makes you attractive to others, and therefore popular, and all of that should satisfy some of your important goals.
Benetton, on other hand, apparently wants its customers to feel good about themselves because they have a social conscience, because they feel moral outrage about one of hot-button issues of our time.