17 November 2011

Unhating the Fashionably Controversial-Not!

Benetton, a Milan based global luxury fashion brand, continued its penchant to publicize its products through provocative high concept shock ads with its recent “Unhate” campaign.  The United Colors of Benetton supposedly sought to “fight the culture of hate in every form” by showing photo montages of world leaders kissing each other on the mouth. These images were unfurled in New York, Tel Aviv, London, Paris, Milan and Rome.

A banner hung on a bridge near the Vatican depicted Pope Benedict XVI lip locked with Imam Sheik Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, who is the head of the al-Azhar institute in Cairo.   The Vatican objected to the unauthorized and manipulative use of the Pope’s image which shows a grave lack of respect for the pope and the faithful. This papal objection got the in your face Tiber banner pulled down but the montage remained at the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

As for el Tayeb, the head of the largest Sunni Muslim theological institution,   a spokesman for the Imam dismissed the Benetton ad as ridiculous. It will not be surprising if a fatwa is forthcoming for the offensive ad.

Despite the unity against Benetton, it is dubious that el Tayeb will rectify relations with the Vatican. El Tayeb broke off talks with the Vatican earlier in the year when the Pope objected to the treatment of Coptic Christians after the Arab Spring in Egypt.

Although the ad campaign is entirely objectionable, some of the “Unhate” couplings were not that far fetched.  For example, President Barack Obama is shown necking with Chinese President HuJintuo.  Last year, Saturday Night Live anticipated this Sino-American pseudo item.

                                  SNL China Debt Skit

Barbra Streisand was quoted as saying “I don’t care what you say about me. Just spell my name right”.  Granted, Benetton was seeking a viral campaign to “épater la bourgeoisie”.  Benetton’s one day campaign sure got the attention. The pity is that the associated Unhate foundation seemed like a noble corporate social justice effort, but the Unhate campaign is thoroughly sullied by controversy, hyper-sexualization and provocative homophilia.  It will be interesting to see if Benetton’s corporate and ad execs live to regret their “Unhate” campaign.

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