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