Sunday, November 20, 2011

United Colors of Benetton’s “Unhate”

Today's guest blogger played hockey as a child in Canada and probably knows a thing or two about bashing lips. Question: Is authenticity really a prerequisite for public relations campaigns? Let's find out from Heena Chavda...

My jaw dropped when a tweet crossed my screen, “Obama kisses Chavez.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link to see my screen fill with a striking (yet obviously photoshopped) image of Pres. Obama in a lip-locked kiss with Pres. Hugo Chavez.

The image is courtesy of the UnHate Foundation, established by the United Colors of Benetton. With its mandate to “contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance” the ad campaign sees the likes of world leaders including the Pope, Sheikh al-Tayeb, and Pres. Hu Jintao in simple, yet provocative kisses. The only thing that crossed my mind was “WOW! Benetton has got guts!”

As many companies these days, Benetton launched the campaign over social media, and there was an immediate flurry of activity. Mostly, people were shocked by the images, but the “Unhate” message seemed to resonate. Of course, some religious rights groups immediately called for the image of the Pope be removed, and as the weeks go on, I’m sure other groups will be outraged and call for the campaign to end.

As public relations practitioners, we know the number one obligation in our industry is to be authentic. While the underlying sentiments of the Unhate campaign—tolerance and love through the universal sign for love, the kiss—are authentic, showing world leaders in these provocative, entirely out-of-context positions is not. A campaign depicting “real” people of different races, colors, and religions in a lip-locked embrace may lack the shock value of the current campaign, but it would have gotten closer to the authenticity of those ideas the campaign is intended to communicate.

Hate it or love it, this bold campaign has definitely sparked conversations all over the world.

Heena Chavda grew up in the northern city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She is a student, an explorer, a cook, a wannabe photographer, and an avid hockey fan (GO Oilers!).


Susan Rucci said...

Great topic, Heena. Like you, I immediately clicked thru on my Twitter account to find out what all the fuss was about. Benetton has an advertising history of doing this with other button pushing topics like AIDS, the Catholic Church and the war in Bosnia. Perhaps, it's the Gen Xer in me(skeptical, distrustful) but I found the ad to be disingenuous. If Benetton really wanted to engage in corporate social responsibility, there were more productive avenues the clothing company could have taken. Benetton could have created an 'unhate' t-shirt with proceeds going towards tolerance education. It could have posted facts about each leader in the photo shopped smooches and what each man has done to promote more tolerance in his own country. Instead, Benetton went for the cheap, manufactured thrill. What a shame. Quite frankly, the last time Benetton was actually cool was when I was in high school and that was a long, long, like really long, time ago.

brandsinger said...

Hi Susan -
What do you have against "cheap, manufactured thrills"?


Heena Chavda said...

Hi Susan - thanks for for your comment. I remember those controversial Benetton ads from the 90's: the black woman nursing a white baby, the aids patient, the nun and priest kissing. I loved those ads because they were raw and real. I feel Benetton really missed the boat with this campaign and went purely for shock value and lost all sight of their main goal.

Mr Lonely said...

nice blog.. walking here with a smile. take care.. have a nice day ~ =D

Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..