Advert of Pope kissing Al Azhar imam: #MassiveFAIL
Either I’m in a disturbing dream, a bit dizzy or someone’s telling a really bad joke. Close enough. The Italian clothing firm, Benetton, recently launched an advertising campaign with a political message dubbed ‘UNHATE’, which features a series of photoshopped images of world leaders making peace (and passion) through their lips.
It shows President Barack Obama smooching Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, President Nicholas Sarkozy sharing a more-than-business kiss with German Chancellor Angela Markel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and most controversially of all – Pope Benedict XVI lip-locked with Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb, imam of the renowned Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo.
Yesterday Benetton pulled this last image from its campaign after protests from the Vatican that it was “totally unacceptable” and showed “graved disrespect”.
“We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms,” a Benetton Group spokesman said in an official statement.
“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 from every publication.”
Since when was promoting cultural tolerance and brotherly love symbolised in a sexual image? Far from a platonic image, this epic marketing flaw shouts of sexual love – that’s what makes it shocking. If the international clothing retailer decided to promote tolerance through world leaders shaking hands, or embracing – well then no one would take notice. Their priority for shock-tactics has completely undermined their message.
What kind of marketing strategy does the exact opposite to its aim? Benetton claims the campaign aims to promote peace, tolerance and love globally but instead, it has offended and alienated communities across the globe through violating the courtesy of respect for their religious leaders. Even the White House has expressed displeasure at the Benetton ads, but hasn’t threatened legal action.
The implications of such simplistic photo-altering are also frankly patronising. The Israeli PM and Mahmoud Abbas kissing completely undermines the complexity and sensitivity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Benetton is renowned for controversial campaigns but many previous ones have actually been well thought through. They have been shocking but the message is clear and effective. One that sticks in my mind is its anti-racism campaign featuring images of three bloody hearts on a plain white background. The writing underneath each heart simply stated: White, Black, Yellow. Such a campaign I would applaud. This recent one has been found wanting.
Perhaps Benetton’s latest (attempted) campaign reflects its desperation for publicity and selling clothes in a gloomy time of falling retail revenues in the global economic downturn. Let’s see if it works.