Benetton kiss leaves bad aftertaste

The latest United Colors of Benetton's (UCB) campaign titled Unhate seems to have rubbed global leaders as well as commoners the wrong way, featuring digitally manipulated pictures of top religious and political leaders locking lips with each other.

According to foreign media reports  this is UCB's first major campaign in more than a decade.

The campaign features images of world leaders like US president Barack Obama making out with China's Hu Jintao and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. The Pope is also seen kissing the imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Egypt Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb.

The company's executive vice president Alessandro Benetton has reportedly said the ads were 'constructive provocation' intended 'to give widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance'.

"Benetton 'chooses social issues and actively promotes humanitarian causes that could not otherwise have been communicated on a global scale'," he said.

The Vatican has described the ads as "totally unacceptable" and indicated that it might even mull a legal action against the company.

Marketing asked the local industry folks in Singapore for their reaction on the campaign.

"It's like a small  boy who drops his pants to grab attention," said Stephen Mangham, ex-group chairman Ogilvy Singapore. "In other words it's memorable but puerile."

Anand A.V., managing director, Up BrandBuzz, described the campaign as "glib and opportunistic".

"Benetton's previous campaigns celebrated cultural diversity and how we are all alike deep down. They were based on human insights and had universal appeal. This campaign feels very glib and opportunistic," he said.

"If Benetton really wanted to promote the message of ‘unhate' it should take a stand and maybe just focus one core issue, say the Lebanese-Israeli situation which is the most explosive in the world.  The campaign feels like it was made for awards and while it may get people talking it's more likely to leave a bile after taste."

But others say it captures the essence of all Benetton campaigns.

Chris Chiu, group ECD at Leo Burnett, said it previous work provoked a stronger reaction.

"Untill today that shot of the man stricken with AIDS on his death-bed is incredible. I think that might be because of the rawness or authenticity of the situation and the content.

"These ones, although contemporarily relevant, are obviously creatively manipulated and so doesn't have that same impact. It's not Benetton capturing or celebrating life. It's more them manufacturing it."

Elliot Townson, creative partner at Untitled, argues this campaign shows Benetton going back to its daring roots.

"For me, I have absolutely no problem with it and it delivers the Unhate message in a very memorable way. And after Googling this just now, it's already got loads of online coverage and Facebook views. So lets hope it helps the brand flog some clothes," Townson said.