Sears, Roebeuck and Co. severed ties with trendy
Italian clothier Benetton, whose ad campaign featuring death row
inmates upset customers.
Sears chairman and chief executive Arthur C. Martinez was
"outraged," as were many customers, at the ads, said company
spokesman Tom Nicholson.
"The advertising campaign was inconsistent with what Sears has
come to stand for and is inconsistent with the customer base we
serve," Nicholson said. "We have a high level of customer trust
and loyalty, and there has been some strong emotional reaction to
The ads, which began appearing in magazines and on billboards
last month, feature portraits of American death row inmates in
prison uniforms over the words, "Sentenced to Death." The ads
also give the inmate's name, date of birth, crime and expected
method of execution.
Benetton officials said the ads were meant to raise awareness
about the death penalty, but victims' rights groups said the ads
glorified convicted killers and were insensitive to victims'
families and friends.
Sears ended its contract even after the Italian clothing company
agreed to allow Sears to preview future ads. Sears had said it
would keep the contract under that condition.
Sears has been weighing its decision to terminate the contract
since it learned the content of the ads in early January, Nicholson
"We have been hearing from people who have lost loved ones to
some of the folks who have been profiled," Nicholson said. "It's
reopened wounds and brought back a lot of painful memories and
people are hurt by it."
On Wednesday groups picketed a Houston Sears store and
Benetton's New York office. Hours later, Sears announced it would
immediately pull Benetton-designed clothing from all 400 Sears
stores that have been selling the Benetton USA line.
Benetton spokesman Mark Major did not immediately return a phone
call seeking comment on Sears' decision.
But earlier Wednesday he said Benetton stood by its ads and
believed it had succeeded in "launching a national and global
discussion on capital punishment."
Benetton has made headlines in the past with ads addressing such
topics as AIDS and racism. It also prompted protests from the Roman
Catholic Church in the 1990s for ads featuring models dressed as a
priest and a nun that were kissing.
Sears, based in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates,
introduced the Benetton USA clothing line last fall to help boost
lagging clothing sales. Benetton made that line exclusively for
Sears and continued to sell its United Colors of Benetton clothing
in its own stores.