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Benetton withdraws ad showing pope-imam kiss

Pier Marco Tacca / Getty Images Contributor

Benetton quickly withdrew this image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam from its new ad campaign.

The latest in a long line of provocative United Colors of Benetton ads features (Photoshopped) images of world leaders – some of whom  it’s hard to imagine shaking hands – making out. 

If the sweater maker’s goal was to create controversy, mission accomplished. Only a few hours after unveiling it, Benetton withdrew an ad showing Pope Benedict XVI kissing a top Egyptian imam on the lips after the Vatican denounced it as an "unacceptable" provocation, The Associated Press reports.

The campaign also features President Barack Obama getting sugar from Venzuela’s president and noted D.C.-hater Hugo Chavez as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kissing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing. Those images have not yet been withdrawn.

As The Wall Street Journal reports:

"For the new campaign, Benetton's in-house communication agency Fabrica doctored pictures of leaders –- without their permission."

Alessandro Benetton, sone of the company's founder, told the Journal, perhaps disingenuously, he did not expect the world leaders to complain because the ads promote a message of peace.

"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," Benetton said in a press release. 

The theme is notable, if for no other reason, than it fits in with the scaled-back expectations of our times. (All you need is love? Sorry, no money for love in the budget – how about just not hate?)

Bennetton did not respond to inquiries about the campaign.

Using controversy to sell sweaters, especially in support of AIDS education or racial tolerance, is nothing new for Bennetton.

Photoblog: Benetton unveils "UNHATE" campaign