ROME -- A digitally altered ad that portrays Pope Benedict XVI locking lips with Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Imam of Cairos Al-Azhar mosque, has outraged Catholics worldwide. After a stern rebuke from the Vatican, Italian clothing company Benetton pulled its ad Thursday, a day after it first went public in Paris.
Benetton campaigns have been controversial before. In the 1980s and 1990s, photographer Oliviero Toscani orchestrated campaigns showing, among other images, a man dying from AIDS and a kiss between a nun and a priest. Recently, the companys new marketer, Erik Ravelo, came up with the idea of reviving its past provocative approach. On Wednesday, Benetton announced the launch of its new campaign, which revolves around the them Unhate, an invented term meaning without hate. The ads are inspired by a Cold War satirical mural portraying Erich Honecker, the then-head of East Germany, passionately kissing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
According to Benettons executive deputy chairman, Alessandro Benetton, the aim of the campaign is to fight hate. The digitally altered ads portray kisses between several odd couples, including U.S. President Barack Obama, shown kissing Chinese president Hu Jintao; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
But of all the pairings, the one generating the biggest buzz is the controversial Pope-Imam image, which Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi described as showing "a serious lack of respect for the Pope.
In the end, the Italian company decided to pull the ads. We want to point out again that the meaning of the campaign is just to fight the culture of hate, in every shape, said Alessandro Benetton. On the other hand, we are sorry if the use of an image of the Pope and the Imam offended faithful. For this reason, we have decided to pull the ads immediately, Benetton concluded.
Read the full story in Italian by Alberto Mattioli
*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations