Benetton ‘Unhate’ Ad Campaign Features World Leaders Kissing

(Photo credit: Fabrica)

At first, the images are shocking. President Obama planting a kiss on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s lips. German Chancellor Angela Merkel smooches French President Nicolas Sarkozy, her nation’s economic rival.

These images aren’t the latest political scandal. They’re a new ad campaign from Italian clothing company United Colors of Benetton called “Unhate.”

The images are digitally manipulated but they send a pointed message. The newly unveiled UNHATE Foundation seeks to promote a culture of tolerance and combat hatred around the world, the company said in a news release.

Click here to see all the images.

The campaign was launched today in Paris.

“Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think,” the campaign’s website said. “Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate.”

The website features photos of people holding large banners of the images “on the walls of locations symbolic of the desperately-needed peace process: Tel Aviv, New York, Rome, Milan and Paris,” the news release says.

The ads have already become a source of controversy.

After the images went up, the Vatican quickly denounced an image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing Egyptian Imam Ahmed el Tayyeb on the lips.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi called the digitally altered image an “unacceptable” and offensive manipulation of the pope’s likeness, according to the Associated Press.

Benetton removed the image shortly thereafter and it is no longer on the website.

The company is known for its striking, and often controversial, ads. Past ads have shown a priest kissing a nun, a white baby breast-feeding from a black woman and three human hearts with the words “white,” “black” and “yellow” printed over them.