(Image: Fabrica via http://unhate.benetton.com)
A new ad campaign hopes to promote tolerance by showing world leaders kissing each other on the lips, including President Barack Obama locking lips with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Israel's and Palestine's leaders sharing a smooch.
The startling photos are part of the Benetton-founded UNHATE foundation, which "seeks to contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance, to combat hatred, building on Benetton's underpinning values," according to the campaign's website.
Besides the kissing images already mentioned, other images, which were created digitally, include Obama with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, France's Nicholas Sarkozy with Germany's Angela Merkel (the only male-female combo in the campaign), and Pope Benedict XVI kissing Islamic leader Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sheikh of the Al-Azzhar mosque.
According to Alessandro Benetton, executive deputy chairman of the group, the images are not meant to disrespect some of the most powerful people in the world.
"The images are very strong, but we have to send a strong message," Benetton said, according to the Times of India. "We are not wanting to be disrespectful of the leaders...we consider them 'conception figures' making a statement of brotherhood with a kiss."
The UNHATE campaign also has a video which shows men kissing each other after fighting, and Muslim women kissing each other clandestinely in the dark, among other kissing snippets.
For people who feel that the images are offensive, Benetton says the problem is with them – not the ads.
"Negative reactions will come from negative hearts," he said.
Benetton is no stranger to controversial ad campaigns. In 1991, the Italian clothing company released ads depicting a young nun in full habit kissing a Catholic priest. The Roman Catholic Church took Benetton to court, demanding that the 1,300 billboards be taken down, but the complaint was rejected, according to The New York Times.