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Benetton 'Unhate' campaign comes under fire for smooching leaders

The United Colors of Benetton has a new series of ads featuring numerous world leaders kissing. While they claim it's all in an attempt to oppose 'hate' and exorcise the ‘fear of the other,’ the people featured in the ads aren't so sure.

A United Colors of Benetton's advertising campaign featuring world leaders locking lips has caused quite a ruckus this week.

As part of Benetton's "Unhate" campaign, the ads voice the clothing company's opposition to what it calls the
culture of “hate,” and are "aimed at exorcising the 'fear of the other."

Among the 'smooching' couples featured in these (Photoshopped) images are President Obama with both Chinese President Hu Jintao andHugo Chavez of Venezuela, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Nethanyahu with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and the Pope with Egyptian cleric Ahmed el Tayeb.

Giant posters of the ads were posted in Milan,
Paris, Tel Aviv and New York.

Controversy came quick at hand, not least from the Vatican: The Catholic state threatened to take legal action against Benetton:

“This
[image] is a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offense against the
sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can
violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract
attention through provocation,” said Vatican spokesperson Rev Lombardi.

Benneton, not wanted to get on the Catholic Church's bad side, was quick to release a statement of its own: “We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms. We are therefore sorry that the use of the image of the Pope and the imam has so offended the sentiments of the faithful. In corroboration of our intentions, we have decided, with immediate effect, to withdraw this image.”

It seems Benetton has struck a chord, which was no doubt part of its plan. But will the ad campaign prove effective in the way they claim to have intended? Or will this anti-hate campaign stir up more of the anger it seeks to address?