Public displays of affection like kissing or even holding hands between the sexes use to be taboo in China. This gradually relaxed with the opening up of China in the late eighties, though attitudes to homosexuality remain in the closet. The latest ads from Benetton would definitely be frowned upon, as they show China’s President Hu Jintao kissing America’s President Obama.
While partnerships between the US and China has been improving, I wouldn’t say they were yet at the hugging stage of the relationship. However these controversial ads wont be published in China, as the government still exercises a strong control of the advertising and media industry.
Not that this bothers Benetton, who have never been shy from producing controversial advertising using graphic photography to shock. The company argues that it’s campaigns tackle serious issues head on. In the hope of changing people’s prejudices toward subjects of sex, religion, race, and war.
This latest campaign called “Unhate” was created to confront the issues of hate in the world between different peoples, cultures and religions. While trying to promote more peace and understanding between across the world. The ads feature world and political leaders with opposing views kissing each other. Benetton’s Deputy Chairman Alessandro Benetton explains:
“While global love is still a utopia, albeit a worthy one, the invitation ‘not to hate’, to combat the ‘culture of hatred’, is an ambitious but realistic objective…”
Fostering global peace and love is an overly ambitious yet noble cause for a fashion brand to take up. It shares some ideals of the “Make Love Not Love” campaigns of the 1960s, but with more modern edge. However these ads have again created more bad feeling among certain sectors of the public. But sometimes you need to shock in order to make your point, otherwise you message gets lost in the over saturated world of advertising.
On many occasions Benetton ads have been banned, most famously the image of the new born baby in the mid 90s. But all this has done is create more publicly and notoriety for the brand. Raymond Rubicam, the father of modern advertising believed that “The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other justification worth mentioning”.
I am not sure if these ads will have any impact on the sales in store. But they will connect with their target audience of urban and affluent twentysomethings, who think of themselves as independent and free spirited. It has also put Benetton’s brand back on the fashion map even though the ads may be banned in traditional media.
However, this is a campaign that will gain more impact and attention through viral means, especially among China’s 200 million internet youth. Advertising on its own can never bring about world peace but it can be a powerful medium to communicate the message. And with Benetton’s controversial approach it highlights the issue and gets people talking, which is always better than a war.