Photograph by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.
If Benetton was hoping to make waves with its new UNHATE ad campaign (and it’s a safe bet they were), mission accomplished.
The Italian clothing company is no stranger to sensational ads, but the Benetton ad team may have outdone themselves this time with a series of digitally-altered photos depicting a handful of world leaders locking lips with one another.
Between President Obama kissing his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, in one picture and Hugo Chavez in another (not to mention an all-EU pairing of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, and another photo showing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas smooching Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) there’s plenty to talk about. But the image that has caused the biggest stir so far features Pope Benedict XVI kissing the lips of Ahmed el Tayyeb, the imam of al-Azhar mosque in Egypt and a leading voice in Sunni Islam.
The AFP reports that Benetton agreed to pull the ad shortly after the Vatican issued a statement expressing the "firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father." We’re guessing the imam wasn’t too pleased either.
The company defended its new campaign, saying it was meant "solely to battle the culture of hate in all its forms." But, nonetheless, said it was "sorry that the use of the [pope-imam] image had so hurt the sensibilities of the faithful." In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Alessandro Benetton elaborated on the company's message (you know, besides "buy our clothes"): "It means not hating," he said. "In a moment of darkness, with the financial crisis, what's going on in North African countries, in Athens, this is an attitude we can all embrace that can have positive energy."
As the Washington Post points out: "The controversial ad campaign is an attempt for Benetton to regain its status from the "United Colors" ads that regularly shocked viewers with subjects that had nothing to do with clothing: A priest kissing a nun, a man dying of AIDS, a just-born baby with umbilical cord still attached, a trio of real human hearts."
We’ve reprinted the ad in question below; the Post has a few of the others here.