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Benetton has done it again. The Italian clothing company whose American empire has dropped from 800 to 61 stores is once again making a marketing move that advertises more about edgy sexuality than clothing.

The so-called Unhate campaign features public domain pictures of world leaders kissing one another. President Barack Obama is featured kissing China’s Hu Jintao. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is portrayed kissing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbbas, and Pope Benedict is kissing Imam of the Al-Ashar mosque Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb. So far, only the Pope-Imam smooch has been dropped after loud protests from the Vatican.

To say the same-sex pictures of the campaign are disgusting, or at least tasteless, doesn’t quite cover it. What’s more disgusting is the Benetton executive debuty chairman’s, the son of the founder, claim the advertising campaign is not about Benetton’s brand but about the “need to have courage to not hate others.” Sure, the company is spending millions to promote love and peace. That’s Benetton balderdash.

Benetton is known for pushing the envelope in advertising, featuring the bloody clothes of a soldier killed in battle, black children kissing wrapped in the American and Soviet flags, or convicted murders each given a chance to share their view of life. Benetton is not alone. Remember Calvin Klein’s “heroin chic” ads in the 1990s? These pictures featured emaciated people, usually young women, with dark circles under their eyes. The ads drew fire even from the White House. And then there’s Abercrombie and Fitch, which generally features partially nude models, often in compromising positions, in its advertisements. Abercrombie and Fitch has also sold push-up or padded bra bathing suits for little girls under 10 years of age.

Supposedly the owners and leadership in these companies hold rather liberal social and political views. Ostensibly these advertisements are about clothing or fashions, yet few of the actual pictures or messages feature clothing. Ostensibly, at least for Benetton, these ads are about a political message, clearly a nihilistic one. But in the end, the ads are really about creating controversy to advance the brand. The companies want their name to be known so that, what, they can make more money, a decidedly capitalistic viewpoint.

Benetton claims no moral responsibility for its ads. Indeed in using political leaders’ names and images for commercial purposes without permission or compensation the companies are probably breaking the law. But Benetton does not care. Certainly Benetton and the other companies are responsible for promoting debased sexuality, the drug culture, and maybe even pedophilia, but no matter, the brand and cash flow are what matter.

One hopes that the American public would not be so gullible. One hopes Americans, and for that matter consumers in other countries, would walk away from Benetton, Calvin Klein, and Abercrombie and Fitch. One hopes.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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