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Vatican Takes Legal Action Over Benetton Pope Kissing Ads

United Colors Of Benetton In Serbia

Vatican Takes Legal Action Over Benetton Pope Kissing Ads

In today's noisy world of social media fueled advertising it's hard to get attention.  In some cases you have to do something radical or viral to make a splash.

Italian clothing company Benetton has decided to take their controversial marketing roots to new heights with shocking images of world leaders locking lips.

In two separate ads President Obama is photo-shopped to appear as if he's kissing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The controversial ad campaign launched by The Unhate Foundation (founded by Benetton) is an attempt for the company to regain its status from the “United Colors” ads which regularly shocked people with subjects having absolutely nothing to do with their clothing.

They've shown ads in the past of a priest kissing a nun, a man dying of AIDS, a just-born baby with an umbilical cord still attached and a trio of real human hearts.

Benetton's Unhate Foundation preaches worldwide tolerance.

Not only does the new campaign show Obama kissing other world leaders, it shows the Pope kissing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, the Imam of al-Azhar mosque in Egypt.

President Obama

The Vatican is not showing any tolerance for the use of their leader being displayed to help sell clothes.  In fact, the Vatican has condemned the highly controversial kiss.  The company responded by removing it completely after the complaints.  Unfortunately the company is still going to be hearing from The Vatican's attorneys.  The Vatican announced that it plans to take legal action over the image.

The BBC said it was unclear if the Vatican planned to sue the Benetton directly for damages. A statement from the Vatican said the ad was “damaging to not only to dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church, but also to the feelings of believers.” A spokesperson for al-Azhar called the ad “irresponsible and absurd.”

The response from the Vatican is a major oops for Alessandro Benetton, deputy chairman of Benetton Group and son of the founder of the family company.  He tried to explain away the controversial kissing ads by telling the Wall Street Journal "“It means not hating."

Alleandro Bennetton also said “In a moment of darkness, with the financial crisis, what's going on in North African countries, in Athens, this is an attitude we can all embrace that can have positive energy.”

While no one would disagree that the world is in a big stew right now, does that mean Benetton should take advantage by launching such a shocking and controversial ad campaign designed to sell clothes?  Sales are way down for the company, like they are for many companies right now.

The Pope - Pope Benedictus XVI

Some experts believe that rather than an attempt to promote tolerance, peace or a light hearted spirit the company is just trying to make a splash in a very overcrowded advertising soaked world.  The current campaign was inspired by a kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German communist leader Erich Honecker in 1979.

The campaign is the first part of a three-step plan to revive the Benetton brand. According to the WSJ, the brand is also rethinking its clothing lines.

Other controversial kisses besides Obama and The Pope includes kissing between the leaders of North and South Korea as well as kissing between  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy, president of France.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also share a kiss.

Although the Vatican is the first to take legal action will others follow?  What about the White House?  Will they sue over the use of Obama?  There is speculation that other representatives of world leaders will follow the Vatican and take legal actions against Benneton.

Many feel that the new campaign is not a push for peace or a better world but just another greedy attempt to fuel sales in a world beset with major financial problems.

What do you think?  Were the ads appropriate or not?

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