The White House on Thursday protested the United Colors of Benetton "Unhate" advertising campaign showing Photoshopped images of U.S. President Barack Obama full-lip kissing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The posters showing world leaders same-sex kissing were displayed in Benetton clothing stores worldwide, in newspapers, magazines and on internet.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz, objecting to the images of Obama same-sex kissing, told AFP:
"The White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president's name and likeness for commercial purposes."
This is not the first time the White House is objecting to use of image of the president for "commercial" purposes. AFP reports that the White House had objected to a company's use of Obama's image in a January 2010 jacket ad. The image showed Obama wearing the company's jacket while visiting the Great Wall of China.
Digital Journal reported that the "Unhate" ads were presented in Paris on Wednesday by executive deputy chairman of the clothing company Alessandro Benetton. The company defended the photos as its contribution to the fight against the "culture of hate in all forms." Los Angeles Times reports Benetton urged world leaders shown in the poster images not to feel offended because they were about "tolerance and love."
According to the statement by Alessandro Benetton:
"The UNHATE campaign is an invitation to people around the world to combat the 'culture of hatred' that exists in the world today. We are giving widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance and to reflect on how hatred arises particularly from fear of ‘the other’ and of what is unfamiliar. Our goal is to inspire closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures and the peaceful understanding of each other’s notions. For anyone who hates this campaign, we ask them to unhate."Los Angeles Times notes the White House did not say that it "hates" the poster images but simply that the White House has a longstanding policy of discouraging "use of the president's name and likeness for commercial purposes."
A part of the Unhate ad campaign from United Colors of Benetton, showing tweaked photos of world leaders kissing
Included in the ads were the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian leader Mahmud Abass. Another showed French President Nicolas Sarkozy kissing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Digital Journal reported the Vatican also objected to the image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a leading Egyptian Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb. According to the Vatican statement, Benetton's portrayal of the pope wounds "not only...the dignity of the pope but also...the sensibilities of the faithful."
Benetton agreed on Wednesday to withdraw the photo of the pope. The clothing company issued an apology saying it was "sorry that the use of the image had so hurt the sensibilities of the faithful." The Vatican, however, said it would take legal action against the company.
This is not the first time Benetton in engaging in such controversial ad campaign. In the 1990s, the company published an image of a nun dressed in white kissing a priest dressed in black cassock. Los Angeles Times also reports that in 2000, the company issued images featuring death row inmates in a "We, on Death Row" ad campaign. The ads caused an uproar which led to Sears withdrawing a line of Benetton clothing from its store.