Benetton’s ads more than just a kiss

Where would you see US President Barack Obama smooching Chinese Premiere Hu Jintao and also Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?

No, not on some leaked personal photographs or a tabloid front page but on the latest campaign of Benetton.

The Italian clothing company notoriously famous for its bold ad campaigns—and also its clothing line—has taken a bolder step with its “UNHATE” campaign, also an advocacy foundation against hatred.

A series of photographs shows different world leaders, political and religious, kissing and smooching: Pope Benedict XVI kissing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Though Benetton says that the “campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms,” it has faced criticisms forcing to bring down one of its photos.

A press release after the campaign sparked a stern condemnation from the Vatican over a photograph states, “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.”

This clearly suggests the sensitivities when it comes to the representation of religion and/or faith. The Pope and the Imam kissing might have certainly sparked ire for people could have looked the kiss from a different perspective to what Benetton was trying to show.

Benetton’s press statement says that the aim of its UNHATE campaign was “contrasting the culture of hatred and promoting closeness between people’s, faiths, cultures, and the peaceful understanding of each other’s motivations.”

And a simple kiss sums it all.

At a time when the world is divided by war and relationships between countries cracked by ideological differences, the kiss in Benetton’s ads is only a metaphor.

It signals for a truce between North Korea and South Korea, intimacy between the strained Israel-Palestine relation and an interfaith harmony between religions.

It seems that the world leaders have forgotten to acknowledge the religion of peace and harmony. Too much caught up in their political sphere, setting agendas, perhaps they have forgotten that a real world exists outside their political domains, a world that primarily values human emotions and relationships that crosses the physical boundaries set by the governments.

From a naked anorexic women to a man dying of AIDS, Benetton’s ad campaigns have always sparked controversies. But at the same time, it has also got people talking about those issues.

In case of the smooching between various political figureheads too, I think it certainly makes people think. At a first instance, one might laugh it off or even be offended by two men kissing.

However, if someone just stops here, there might be a problem.

You have to go to the next level and try to analyse what it really means. In UNHATE’s case, it means a call for understanding and peace, to sort out the differences.

So would the scenario have been different if the people in the Benetton campaign were only holding hands instead of kissing?

I think the kiss does the trick better; holding of hands could just have been little noticed or unnoticed. The kiss has at least created a discourse. It has sparked a conversation, and also a debate.

And who knows, the leaders might get the message too. I wonder what’s on their mind.

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