Benetton’s Unforgettable Unhate Campaign
It is just over one year since the Benetton clothing brand released what was probably its most controversial advertising campaign to date. ‘Unhate’ focused on bringing people together, using the idea that hate and love are ‘not as far away from each other as we think’. This was visualised in a surprising manner with world leaders of conflicting countries embracing in a full-on kiss. Given the current troubles in Israel it is particularly relevant to take another look at these advertisements with the below image featuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Unhate Foundation, founded by Benetton, revolves around the core principles of fighting against discrimination, supporting the youth generation and understanding the social impact of art. Recent projects include developing shelters for street children in New Delhi and survival workshops for street children in São Paulo. It was formed to become a major part of the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy.
The most controversial image involved religion rather than politics with a doctored image showing Pope Benedict XVI kissing Egyptian imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb. After fierce pressure from the Vatican, posters with the image were withdrawn with Benetton apologising for any offence caused. A spokesman for the Pope said that it was an ‘absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends.’ Another poster featuring German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi had to be dropped at the last minute following the Italian Prime Minister’s sudden resignation.
The campaign was devised by Benetton’s research communication centre, Fabrica, alongside design / advertising agency 72andSunny which has offices in Los Angeles and Amsterdam. It caused instant problems with some media publications refusing to print the ads. Although the International Herald Tribune and the Guardian said no, other major titles such as the Economist and Newsweek had no problem running them.
In June the poster campaign won the Press Grand Prix award at the Cannes Ad Festival. Judges noted that it did not follow conventional advertising with no focus on the clothes or brand. By not following the traditional rules, it became a campaign that was impossible to ignored. The Benetton Group are historically familiar with shock-advertising having previously used posters featuring death-row inmates, a blood-stained newborn baby and a man dying from A.I.D.S.