Benetton’s shock treatment works, say creatives

18 Nov,2011

By Tuhina Anand


Benetton’s Unhate campaign aimed at leaders and citizens of the world to combat the ‘culture of hatred’ with its Unhate Foundation has shocked many. One of its visuals showed Pope Benedict XVI in a lip-lock with Imam of Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. This has caused such a furore that the ad had to be pulled off and an official statement on Benetton’s website said, “We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms. 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.”


Some of the other people in the lip-lock campaign are Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France and King Jong II, the Supreme Leader of North Korea and Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea.


The campaign is being used to launch the Unhate Foundation which champions a new culture of tolerance and combats hatred. What could be better than to show two political figures who are often at loggerheads kissing each other thus signifying the basic of love and reconciliation. Not to forget that the provocative images immediately catches the eye and even raises many eyebrows. So in that way Unhate Foundation and its advertising on its very first day of launch managed to create a stir.


The campaign has been lauded by many in the fraternity. Prathap Suthan, Chief Creative Officer at iYogi, calls it brilliant.  He said, “I bet it’s taken them a million tons of conviction to come out with it. It’s not every day you get to showcase Presidents and Popes kissing each other. As a campaign, it doesn’t get much bigger, bolder or more controversial than this and yet remain hugely relevant. In the context of the world, where there’s violence, and gore, and all kinds of hate, unhate seems to be a great thought to own. Plus all the free PR this is bound to create.  This campaign has multiple layers – from colour to history to geography to homosexuality to religion to culture to love and peace. It’s a genuine Benetton campaign. And it comes at a moment when the brand is flagging. If you can get the world talking about your campaign, whether you like, love or despise the thought and the representation, the brand wins hands down. I would never have the spine, guts, and spheres to think/back this kind of a campaign. Not just me, none in India. Great campaign. Great brand. Lousy clothes, though.”

In fact, the campaign is reported to have given a lift to Benetton’s flagging sales. But this is not a first for the brand. It has been championing social causes with its controversial ads even in the past. As Manish Bhatt, Founder Director, Scarecrow Communications Ltd, remarked, “If this attempt was made by any other brand one would dub it as a move to be controversial but Benetton has historically never been timid. It has been pushing boundaries hence the current ad very much adheres to brand personality. Creativity is known not to adhere to political correctness be it in art, poetry or advertising. Benetton has been consciously doing this for years.”

Even earlier Benetton has pushed boundaries when it took on issues of racism and homosexuality with its simple, compelling but controversial advertising. Priti Nair, Founder, Curry Nation, says that it’s Benetton and the advertising remains true to its personality. She said, “I have read that Benetton is calling it a touch of ironic and constructive provocation. Which it is!”

KV Sridhar aka Pops, the NCD at Leo Burnett said, “The intention of Benetton advertising is good, however shocking it might be, but then its Benetton. Hugging would probably be more easily accepted imagery but then it would not have caused any shock as the kissing is doing now.”

The campaign is supported by film, guerilla actions across the world showcasing the visuals and the digital where a Kiss Wall is created and people invited to share their pictures of their kisses and opinions besides Unhate list, a Twitter-based list of the things and people that are not hated, which is constantly updated by visitors. There will also be an Unhate Dove, an art installation made using empty bullet shells sent in by residents of war zones around the world and recycled to make a dove, the symbol of peace, which will carry with it the Foundation’s message of peace.

The campaign in that sense is encompassing an entire ecosystem to unveil the concept of Unhate which many may argue to be grammatically incorrect. The Foundation aims to be a think tank, attracting personalities and talents from the fields of culture, economy, law and politics, and people who have gone from simple citizens to leaders of movements, distinguishing themselves through their ideas and actions against the causes and effects of hatred.

While the campaign is controversial and getting people to talk but the truth is that it is meant to just do that. Arun Iyer, National Creative Director Lowe Lintas, said, “The campaign is designed with all intention to court controversy and it’s successfully doing that. At the concept level, Unhate is something no will have any issue with whereas at the visual level this will cause lot of talk. I think it has succeeded in doing what it is supposed to do!”

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One response to “Benetton’s shock treatment works, say creatives”

  1. Kalyan Kar says:

    Excellent feature…Benetton ads have always struck a chord for their sheer creative audacity. However, the story does not clarify whether the entire ‘Unhate’ campaign has been pulled out or just the one that shows the Pope and the Imam in a liplock….

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