Benetton kissing ads court controversy; are you offended?

benetton-unhate-1.jpgA new set of ads unveiled by clothing retailer Benetton features doctored photos of world leaders kissing. In one, Barack Obama locks lips with China's Hu Jintao. In another, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smooches Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. One ad, featuring Pope Benedict kissing an Egyptian imam was removed from the company's website after the Vatican registered its objections.

"This is a grave lack of respect for the Pope," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. He added that the ads are "a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation."

"We are sorry that the use of an image of the pontiff and the imam should have offended the sensibilities of the faithful in this way," Benetton replied in a statement.

The ads, which are all emblazoned with the slogan "unhate," refer to the company's UNHATE Foundation, which "seeks to contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance, to combat hatred, building on Benetton's underpinning values." And, releases from the company hint that the ad campaign is meant to start a dialogue about tolerance.

Critics, of course, argue that the images are meant only to provoke a reaction that will grab some press (and sales) for the Italian retailer. According to The Wall Street Journal, Benetton's earnings have been flat in recent years while newer brands, like Zara and H&M continue to hit record sales numbers.

This isn't the first time Benetton has courted controversy in an ad campaign. In the past, the brand has unfurled ad campaigns featuring a priest kissing a nun and AIDS victims.

What do you think? Are the new ads over the line or sending the right message?

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Photo/Video credit: Benetton