Besides brightly colored sweaters and polo-tees, Benetton's brand has always been defined by its polarizing advertising, often focused on social themes such as race relations, war and AIDS that help fuel talk value for the brand.
With it's latest push, the Italian retailer is decidedly going for shock value. In a new campaign that launches today, Benetton depicts political and religious leaders kissing, and very intimately, in the closed-eye, tilted-neck sort. Among them, U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Benedict XVI and Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, the head of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and known as a center for Sunni Islamic studies.
What's the point? Benetton says it's a metaphor for promoting tolerance between people from different walks of life.
The ads have been rejected, unsurprisingly, by a number of publications, including the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian and Elle Francia. But they will be picked up by some well-known titles with broad reach. The print work is slated to run in this month in The Economist, New York Magazine, Newsweek, Monocle, Le Monde's M magazine in France, and Germany's Fur Sie and Suddeutsche Zeitung magazines.
The campaign also leans heavily on social media, including a website that Benetton is calling a "Kiss Wall" where consumers can upload pictures of themselves kissing. It has also created a short film about spreading love, or as Benetton calls it, "unhate." All of the work was created by Benetton's internal agency, Fabrica, which is based in Treviso, Italy, in partnership with MDC Partners-owned 72andSunny, out of its Amsterdam office.