The Unhate Campaign

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This year’s Ad Festival Award at Cannes has been given to the Italian fashion label United Colors of Benneton’s “Unhate” campaign. The campaign comprises of a series of pictures depicting a kiss between digitally altered global leaders. The latest series of this campaign, which launched in Paris, November of 2011, features diplomats such as Kim Jong-il, the pope, Hugo Chavez, Angela Merkel, and even Barack Obama lip-locking their mostly same-sex counterparts. According to Benneton, the purpose of these advertisements are to encourage a “culture of un-hate”, which they say is more significant than being racially or politically charged. Benneton goes on to describe the campaign as “symbolic images of reconciliation – with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation”.

The reaction to the campaign, however, has been poorly received by a number of leaders. The White House representatives have condemned the image of Barack Obama kissing Hugo Chavez as inappropriate, having an established disapproval of “use of the president’s name and likeness for commercial purposes”. Though no action has been made over the White House’s criticisms, the “Unhate” campaign sparked pandemonium for the Vatican over Pope Benedict XVI and senior Egyptian imam al-Tayeb kissing. While the advertisers maintain the determination to stimulate conversation and change attitudes in favor of tolerance, the Vatican representatives complained that the pictures were disrespectful, causing Benneton to withdraw the image from their campaign altogether. Despite protests from both religious and political parties, Benneton insists that reflection and controversy over these images “must still lead to dialogue and mediation”.

Benneton’s advertisers are no strangers to worldwide controversy. In 2000 Benneton produced a campaign, “We, On Death Row”, that exposed injustices of the death penalty through 26 photographs of actual inmates on death row. The provocative advertisements created such a backlash that Benneton had remained relatively quiet – that is, until the 2011 “Unhate” campaign. It seems that in today’s economical battles and global relations, defeating a culture of hate would be more appropriate than ever before. Though the responses towards the “Unhate” campaign itself have been unfavorable, the campaign has done what it sought out to do – to spark a conversation.

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