United Colors of Benetton’s Controversial Unhate Campaign

barack obama kissing hugo chavez united colors of benneton unhate ad

Photos courtesy of the United Colors of Benetton

Political unrest: Benetton's new ads feature manipulated images of President Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez kissing, as well as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy locking lips.

United Colors of Benetton has never shied away from pushing the envelope with its diversity-championing ads. But has the brand gone too far with its new Unhate campaign?

For its first major advertising push in a decade, the retailer's just-released campaign sees Photoshopped images of world leaders kissing each other.

President Barack Obama is seen smooching Venezuela's Hugo Chàvez (above left) and China's Hu Jintao, German chancellor Angela Merkel plants one on France's Nicolas Sarkozy (above right), and likely most controversial of all, Pope Benedict leans in for a kiss from Islamic Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb.

"What does UNHATE mean," the advertising copy reads.

"UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate."

The campaign will raise awareness for the Unhate Foundation, but it remains to be seen whether shoppers will react positively to the unorthodox images.

The New York Times has already declined the opportunity to run the provocative pictures, which were inspired by a 1979 kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German communist leader Erich Honecker, the Wall Street Journal reports.

There may also be fall-out from the world leaders themselves, whose images were doctored without permission. Deputy chairman Alessandro Benetton tells the WSJ that he doesn't expect complaints given the campaign's message of peace, though President Obama has in the past opposed the use of his image for commercial purposes.

What do you think? Is the campaign powerful, or in poor taste?