A new worldwide advertising campaign by the UNHATE Foundation is causing quite a stir on the Internet. The Italian apparel company, Benetton Group, sponsors the foundation and its efforts to spread a message of tolerance to the world. The recent campaign features digitally altered photos of world leaders sharing a kiss on the lips, which according to the organization’s website is a universal symbol of love. Some of these featured leaders include U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Pope Benedict XVI and Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a press release UNHATE states that it hopes the new United Colors of Benetton campaign will have an impact on the international community by posting the pictures in areas that are “symbolic of the desperately-needed peace process: Tel Aviv, New York, Rome, Milan, Paris.” The group feels that love and hate reside in an “unstable balance” and they’re hoping to reconcile the two by teaching others to unhate.
Shaunna Murphy, in an article for Entertainment Weekly, wrote about her reaction to the clothing company’s advertisements.
“The message of the campaign seems to be pretty simple — people of different race, orientation, and creed should not hate each other. On that, I completely agree. What I don’t understand is what any of this has to do with Benetton clothing, and why they chose images of kissing world leaders to promote equality. Clothing advertisements, as a rule, typically range from the bold and sexual to the light and cheesy. Clothing has become a primary form of expression, and advertisements usually try to convey an image that buyers want to obtain. Clearly, these advertisements are an exception to the rule.” (source)
A few of the leaders featured in the posters spoke out against the campaign, but only one version was removed after legal threats. According to The Guardian, the Vatican threatened legal action in order to prevent further distribution of the poster featuring Pope Benedict XVI kissing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb. The Guardian reports:
“Press secretary Father Federico Lombardi said: “We cannot but express a resolute protest at the entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends.
“It is a serious lack of respect for the pope, an affront to the feelings of the faithful and an evident demonstration of how, in the field of advertising, the most elemental rules of respect for others can be broken in order to attract attention by provocation.”” (source)
A message of tolerance and acceptance should be spread throughout the international community. No matter what you may believe in or what you may represent, we are all human beings and as such we should all have a common level of respect for each other. However, I am not sure that the lesson UNHATE wanted to spread to the masses was heard or learned for that matter. While I believe the UNHATE foundation can truly have an impact on future generations, I recognize that the current delivery of this first initiative may have fallen short of its goal. Similar to Murphy’s sentiments, I am not sure how a tolerance lesson connects to selling clothing. I think it raises concerns about the Benetton Group’s brand image, credibility and their personal agenda. Was this campaign a real attempt at challenging the treatment of “others”, or was it an attempt to shock and awe people into buying the company’s clothes?
Please share your thoughts…
What was your reaction to seeing the poster campaign? What do you believe was the UNHATE foundation’s motive behind using the images of world leaders? Do you believe that people will receive a lesson on tolerance from United Colors of Benetton?