Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shame on the United Colors of Benetton!

A doodle on "Shame on the United Colors of Benetton!"

Doodle (Toronto: November 17, 2011) © Jerome D'Costa

The United Colors of Benetton (UCB), a well-known Italian clothing fashion company, started its advertising campaign this year with the theme of “Unhate.” The intention of this campaign, according to the company’s head Alessandro Benetton, is “the reconciliation and acceptance” in the face of increased hatred in the world. 

This campaign portrays digitally manipulated shocking images of world leaders, who are opposed to each other, deep-kissing on their lips. Large colourful images include those of Pope Benedict XVI kissing Egypt’s imam Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb, US President Obama kissing Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, Israel’s Premier Benjamin Netanyahu locking lips with Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and so on. 

The Vatican vehemently protested against this portrayal of the Pope and the imam, and , as a result, the company removed the pope and imam’s image from its display and campaign. 

In the past, the United Colors of Benetton also had its annual campaigns where it used other types of shocking images. In one year, it showed an image of a Catholic priest deep-kissing a Sister (nun).

Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi said:  “This is a grave lack of respect for the Pope.” He also called it offensive to the “sentiments of the faithful” and “a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation.”

Alessandro Benetton in a statement said that the campaign is “solely to battle the culture of hate in all its forms. We are sorry that the use of an image of the pontiff and the imam should have offended the sensibilities of the faithful in this way.”

Some Observations on the 2011 Ad Campaign of the United Colors of Benetton

The United Colors of Benetton has been losing money for the past several years. This year, in the face of economic crisis in Europe and some other parts of the world, this company wanted to regain its market by ultra-shock valued advertising campaign. In reality, this campaign proved to be cheap, brute and short. The owner and his cohorts in the company displayed a shocking lack of respect for persons of position who have hundreds and millions of followers. They also gravely lack in regard for cultural and religious sentiments of people. 

To express "reconciliation and acceptance," two persons' hugging could be tolerated, but in some cultures kissing on lips and deep kissing at that is considered a heinous and most vile act.  

This company did not display manipulated photo of Alessandro Benetton lip-locking with his rival company’s owner or CEO expressing “reconciliation and acceptance.” Instead, it took on other leaders.

The shock and awe method may generate a cheap and temporary laugh and excitement, especially among some youth, but it cannot have a lasting effect. This year’s ad campaign exposed the hate of this company in a naked manner. Instead of the “Unhate campaign,” it turned into a hate campaign. 

If this company’s thought-level and moral ground is so low, what can people learn from it? Sadistic fun has a limit to it. Is this the beginning of the end of the United Colors of Benetton?

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