The old saying goes that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” – and in advertising, it’s often particularly true, unless people get really upset. While ads that shock people and turn heads are far from rare, there is still a line that, if crossed, can turn a company from edgy to one that people will avoid. Italian clothing company Benetton, known for such shocking ads, is apparently worried that it has crossed the line with its risqué “Unhate” campaign, which includes photos of various world leaders kissing each other.

The campaign depicts US President Barack Obama locking lips with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in one picture, and Chinese Leader Hu Jintao in another. German Chancellor Angela Merckel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are also amongst the leaders getting fresh with each other. But the one that sparked the most outcry was Pope Benedict XVI and Egyptian imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb sharing a smooch. Benetton says that the campaign intends to “combat the culture of hatred in all its forms” but the Vatican said the photo of the Pope was “a serious lack of respect”. As The Guardian reports, after the Vatican threatened legal action against the clothing brand, they had no choice but to remove the ad from publication.

All these photos are actually kind of creepy. Everyone in them has their eyes closed, which makes them look more authentic, as each person seems so into the kiss. So that’s my reason for wanting the ads removed. But as for the Vatican wanting to have the photo of the Pope removed, I can see why. For any person who follows any religion, their leader is not just a leader, they are in some ways a human representation of those values and beliefs. So while people in the US or Venezuela or any of the other countries involved might be offended that their leaders are shown in these pictures, the photo of the Pope hits closer to the group represented rather than the leader. Religion is a far touchier subject than politics, and because of that, I’m not surprised Benetton received this sort of pressure from the Vatican and really, the campaign is effective enough without the Pope involved.

You can see more of the ads here.

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