Benetton, you go too far

Campaign includes the Pope kissing an Imam - an image extremely offensive to the Vatican who threatened legal action.

Shayan Naveed November 22, 2011
The United Colours of Benetton is no stranger to controversy. The company distinguishes itself by its utilisation of attention grabbing and shocking imagery in advertising campaigns.

Its latest campaign called ‘UNHATE’ contains a series of photo-shopped montages of political and religious leaders, and traditional enemies, kissing.

The jaw dropping series includes Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas; Barack Obama with Hu Jintao and another with Hugo Chavez; Angela Merkel with Nicolas Sarkozy, and the most controversial: the Pope with an Imam.

According to a statement released by the Italian company, the series is meant to promote “brotherhood”. But let’s not kid ourselves — that statement is far from being innocent; there is definitely a sly, almost wicked intent behind the tactic.

The montage is not fraternal, it’s bordering on the vulgar. As expected, the campaign has already received a lot of criticism, with the Vatican threatening legal action. The photo of the Pope was, ultimately, withdrawn, and understandably so, because, come on, you ‘just don’t go there’.

Nevertheless, in order to make an impact and to get a reaction, it’s almost necessary to be provocative.

It is a common practice of advertisers to appeal to the emotions of consumers in order to sell a product. Over decades, advertisements have evolved to a greater focus on social institutions rather than the product itself.

One of Benetton’s most famous campaigns included a controversial photo of a man dying of AIDS, lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by his grieving relatives. It was deemed controversial because of its similarity to a Pieta painting.

Others include allusions to racism (notably one with three almost identical human hearts with the words ‘white’, ‘black’, and ‘yellow’ as captions), war, religion and even capital punishment.

Through its shocking ads, Benetton has been successful in promoting its brand image and gaining media coverage. It would be naïve to think that endorsing the ‘UNHATE’ campaign, and the campaign itself for that matter, can bring about world peace, but one might feel better about buying an overpriced sweater.

To view the pictures, click here.
Shayan Naveed A subeditor for the national pages of The Express Tribune
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.