They did what ?!

Benetton, 2011

I think it’s safe to say that Benetton’s 2011 ‘Unhate’ campaign is about as controversial as the media can get. The campaign, which featured images of world leaders in passionate kisses with some of their biggest adversaries, received mixed reactions from the public. Whilst the campaign undoubtedly had the widespread effect of absolute astonishment, this shock was also met with responses of both disgust and admiration. Steve Jones, partly responsible for the campaign winning at the Cannes Ad Festival, states in appreciation, “It doesn’t obey the rules. You can like it, you can dislike it, you can’t ignore it.” 

Benetton, an Italian based global fashion brand, launched their ‘Unhate’ campaign with the aim of fostering tolerance and ‘global love’. Benetton claims it is inviting “the leaders and citizens of the world to combat the culture of hatred”. The images operate as a sign of reconciliation, with constructive provocation used as the basis of the power these images hold. The digitally altered images, on first glance, simply feature people kissing with the denotation of love and acceptance. Without suitable context, the viewer may not be able to recognise the leaders in the photos and hence the full impact of the campaign would not be forced onto the viewer. But, the use of a variety of world leaders throughout the campaign branches a relatable point to people all over the world and thus the meaning is not lost on any viewer. Through this context and the featured ideologies within the images, further connotations are noticed in the images. The juxtaposition between the well-known opposing leaders as well as the emphasis created by featuring the people in the centre of the frame with an out-of-focus background, draws the eye straight to the locking of lips and has an immediate impact on the viewer… shock. 

Benetton argued for the campaign, “the images are very strong, but we have to send a strong message. We are not wanting to be disrespectful of the leaders… (we are) making a statement of brotherhood with a kiss.” Nevertheless, the campaign did offend a lot of people. The image of president Barack Obama kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was met with distaste as spokesman Eric Schultz explained, “the White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president’s name and likeness for commercial purposes.” The image of the pope in a passionate embrace with a senior Egyptian imam was also met with hostility, with Vatican spokesman slamming the image as “entirely unacceptable” and portraying a “serious lack of respect for the pope”. After the controversy these images surfaced, the image of the pope was withdrawn from every publication.

Regardless of the controversy the Benetton campaign provoked, the images undoubtedly still act as a powerful sign that has an effect on every viewer. The images’ shocking denotation and connotation are what makes the campaign so very forceful and compelling. Comment below your first reaction to the images seen in this campaign!



Benetton, 2011, Unhate, image, Unhate campaign, viewed 23 March 2014

Burgoyne P. 2011, Benetton wants the world to UNHATE, Creative Review, viewed 23 March 2014

MAIL FOREIGN SERVICE 2011, Benetton withdraws ad campaign image of Pope kissing Egyptian imam after Vatican complains it is disrespectful, Daily Mail, viewed 23 March 2014

Turnbull, S. 2014, ‘Media Mythbusting: The Image Cannot Lie Week 3’, lecture, BCM110, University of Wollongong, delivered 18 March 2014. 

Wong, C.M. 2012, Benetton ‘Unhate’ Campaign, Featuring World Leaders Kissing, Wins Cannes Ad Festival Award, Huffington post, viewed 23 March 2014




10 thoughts on “They did what ?!

  1. I was compoletely unaware of this campaign and I think it’s brilliant.
    Your writing style is really clear and effective, making a strong point.
    Your research is evident, which strengthens your article.
    I think it’s hilarious that any time the Catholic Church/the Pope is brought into things its ‘outrageous.’
    Reallly good piece, I enjoyed it alot.

  2. That is a great controversial image! I did the same, but focused especially on the North/South Korean image. It’s amazing how the public reacted, but it would be strange if they didn’t at all! This is a great insight into the campaigns place within the media world, would be interesting to see the implications of the Pope image in the LGBTI paradigm. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! It was really interesting to compare both of our takes on the campaign, good work on your post 🙂 I agree, the public’s reaction was a bit extreme but then again when I first saw the pictures I was like “woah can they do that?” haha, but now I feel it’s such a powerful and funny campaign! Thanks again

  3. Excellent choice of controversial! Haha! loved the Steve Jones quote: “It doesn’t obey the rules. You can like it, you can dislike it, you can’t ignore it.” It’s so true I was shocked when i saw it, scrolled down to the text and was just like, what did i just see? and had to look again. Great analysis too.

  4. Ah, this is SUCH a good choice of image! I remember when this came out in 2011 and I thought “wowee, this is very funny!” but not giving a great deal of thought to it otherwise. You’ve deconstructed the signifiers and the signified very effectively so now I’m thinking about this image in a completely different way. It’s really interesting how people can read the image entirely differently to me (personally, I’m not offended), but I guess ultimately that parallels the fact that personal contexts shape readings of the signifiers. The one thing know more about is – did any of the people depicted come out in support of the image? (But alas, I understand that you couldn’t fit it in because of the word limit).
    Well done! 🙂

    1. wow thankyou for your lovely feedback 🙂
      I actually tried to find information about specifically the leaders reactions but could only find responses from speakers representing the leaders. I would love to know if any of them actually liked the campaign and how powerful it is!
      Thanks again 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s