Benetton pulls controversial ad hours after debut

Just hours after launching an ad campaign depicting world leaders kissing, Italian clothing company Benetton pulled the ad showing Pope Benedict XVI locking lips with prominent Egyptian imam Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb.

Just hours after launching an ad campaign depicting world leaders kissing, Italian clothing company Benetton pulled the ad showing Pope Benedict XVI locking lips with prominent Egyptian imam Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi condemned the ad after it was hung over a bridge near the Vatican, calling it a “completely unacceptable use of the Holy Father's image.” Benetton has not withdrawn any other ads from the campaign.

The “Unhate” campaign features doctored images of prominent world leaders in close embraces, including President Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kissing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Alessandro Benetton, executive deputy chairman of Benetton Group, told The Wall Street Journal he didn't expect complaints because the campaign promotes peace.

Benetton is known for its controversial ad campaigns that helped propel it to fame in the 1980s, including images of a nun kissing a priest and a dying AIDS patient. Lately, the retailer has struggled to compete with brands like Zara and H&M, reporting only a 1.5% increase in sales this year compared to a decade ago.

This latest campaign, which Benetton says will cost less than $13.5 million, is sure to raise brand awareness, if only for the controversy it's already sparked. But by now, consumers are used to shock advertising, and that tactic alone is unlikely to create brand loyalty.

From The Journal:

"Fashion lends itself easily to pushing boundaries," says Robert Bean, founder of Robert Bean Branding Co. in London. "But one won't be rewarded just for making controversy. The product must fit the advertising.

For now, it seems Benetton is on the right track to consistent brand messaging with the launch of its Unhate Foundation. According to the foundation's website, the Unhate campaign will be the first in a series of initiatives promoting tolerance, including an art installation and a "Global Unhate Day."

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