At first glance, the models in the new United Colors of Benetton advertisements, "Face of the City," look like women you'd see in any other of the clothing company's famously provocative and racially diverse ad campaigns: uncannily pretty, clean cut, all different ethnicities. But the one big difference? These women aren't real. Rather, they've each been algorithmically generated to represent, to a T, the ethical make-up of different global cities.
To promote Benetton's Carnival Capsule Collection, billed as "a celebration of color in all its shades," the company created models that represent the demographic proportions of London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Milan, and Berlin. After pulling census data for each city, they put together a group of women that each represented one of the city's demographic groups and photographed them. In post-production, the images were combined using an algorithm that made sure each race was accurately represented based on its percentage of the city's population.
"All together, the six faces are stunning portraits coming from a world in which the melting pot, so revered in 30 years of Benetton’s images, has finally become the norm," the company says in a press release. "Surely a software may have helped to reveal it, but there’s little space for doubt: that world is finally here and diversity is even more beautiful than we imagined it to be."
The result is a group of women who don't look particularly artificial or even especially unique—only subtle variations in features and skin color reveal their precisely generated origins. The large population of Asians in London, for example, give the city's model different qualities from Milan's, where there's a high concentration of Filipinos and Egyptian residents. The New York model's most striking features are defined by the half of the population that is black or Latino, a stark contrast to Paris, where less that 5% of the population is from Africa.
Benetton has been promoting diversity in its ad campaigns since the 1980s, when it added "The United Colors" to its name and the phrase became a sort of pop-cultural shorthand for cultural diversity. While not as controversial as, say, the lip-locking world leaders in its 2011 campaign, the new ads are certainly on message. And with the help of new technology, its portrayal of diversity is more precise than ever.
All Images: courtesy Benetton