CLOTHING chain Benetton has pulled a controversial image of the Pope ‘kissing’ Egyptian cleric Ahmed el Tayyeb after the Vatican threatened legal action.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi had called the Benetton campaign a "totally unacceptable" show of "grave disrespect."
The campaign which also features President Barack Obama and other world leaders ‘kissing’ has provoked a storm of reaction on Twitter, on social networks and in blogs.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu is pictured with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
And it includes an image of French President Nicholas Sarkozy smooching Angela Merkel of Germany,
The Vatican reacted immediately issuing a statement condemning the exploitation of the Pontiff’s image.
“This is a grave lack of respect for the pope, an offence against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation," Rev. Lombardi said in a statement..
The campaign called ‘Unhate’ is part of the Italian company’s bid to get customers back into their shops.
Previous campaigns, including a black woman breast feeding a white baby, a newborn baby with the umbilical cord still attached and the deathbed scene of an AIDS activist which generated enormous global publicity for the chain.
Launched on Wednesday the new campaign comprises of a video, an ‘Unhate List’ and a ‘Kiss Wall’ where the public can upload pictures of themselves ‘unhating’ things.
Giant posters of the ‘kissing’ ads were launched in Milan, Paris, Tel Aviv and New York yesterday.
However, Reuters reported that a poster of the pope ‘kissing’ was removed from a bridge near the Vatican shortly afterwards..
And the Benetton Unhate website also removed the ‘kissing’ picture of the Pope from its series.
"We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms," a Benetton Group spokesman said in a statement.
"We are therefore sorry that the use of the image of the pope and the imam has so offended the sentiments of the faithful. In corroboration of our intentions, we have decided, with immediate effect, to withdraw this image from every publication."
Responses to the new ads have been convulsing Twitter along with hashtags #kissing, #unhate and #benetton