Does Benetton’s New Ad Campaign Push the Envelope Too Far?

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yep, that is President Obama sharing a tender moment with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.

And it’s all for a controversial new ad campaign from United Colors of Benetton.

The Italian fashion brand, which has provocative ads throughout the years, is already making headlines for its latest effort – an ad campaign showing photoshopped images of world leaders kissing their biggest rivals on the lips. The campaign features a half-dozen purported political nemeses in lip-locked embraces, including President Barack Obama and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, among others. The posters have appeared in Benetton stores across the globe as well as in newspapers, magazines, and on Internet websites.

Benetton says the images support the company’s newly-formed Unhate Foundation,
“a way to contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance, to combat hatred and build on Benetton’s underpinning values,” according to the foundation’s website. Besides making world leaders make out, the foundation also has set up a “Kiss Wall” on Facebook that allows users to upload their own kissing photos.

“We want to reaffirm the value of the brand. We are going back to the tradition of [Benetton] and will make the most of this. But we are reconciling the past with the future. At this time, when something bad is happening in the world, we want to focus people’s eyes on the positives. This campaign is about reconciliation and acceptance,” Alessandro Benetton, head of the international retailer, told The Independent on Wednesday.

But while some people are taking the unorthodox campaign as a good joke, The Vatican and numerous world publications newspapers are seething. Benetton backed down and pulled a photo montage of Pope Benedict XVI smooching an iman from the campaign after the Vatican issued a stern condemnation.

“It shows a serious lack of respect for the pope,” said a Vatican spokesperson.

The provocative images have already been banned from the pages of The Sunday Times, International Herald Tribune, and The Guardian in Britain.