By now, everyone in the fashion industry has probably heard of or seen the shocking ads that Benetton has recently released, depicting world leaders locking lips to promote a truly altruistic message: “Unhate.” While the message is good, people can’t get past the doctored photos of people like President Obama kissing President Hu Jintao.
While Benetton, an Italian based clothing company, has been known to use controversial ads to promote its brand and products before, has this campaign crossed the line?
In the United States, as well as other civil law countries like Germany and Hong Kong, a person has the right to control any commercial use of his name, image, or likeness. We have seen cases like this before: most recently, Kim Kardashian filed suit against Old Navy for casting a girl who bore a striking resemblance to Kim in its commercials. President Obama is also no stranger to fashion companies trying to capitalize on his goodwill. Remember the Weatherproof billboard in New York’s Time Square?
I’m sure that the world leaders of some of the most influential and powerful countries of the world have better things to do than come after Benetton for commercially exploiting their images, but should it be nonetheless taboo for companies to release such advertisements?
On one hand, this is something that companies have stealthily been doing for years. What’s the one question that Michelle Obama gets asked in almost every interview: “Who are you wearing?” And almost without fail, the presses report the name of the lucky designer that Michelle has chosen to don on that day, and the company itself sometimes promotes this fact – all the while receiving a generous profit boost for that quarter.
On the other hand, while companies sometimes are not shy to promote that their garments are part of a celebrity’s or political leader’s wardrobe, what Benetton is doing with its current campaign is totally different. It’s not depicting President Obama in a Benetton sweater or blazer like what Weatherproof did in its billboard, it’s depicting President Obama kissing another man, another world leader. It’s using the President’s image and distorting it to cause controversy, most likely in hopes of increasing its sales.
But, at the end of it all – isn’t this what fashion is all about? Taking individual elements and pairing them with something completely different to create something bold, something many argue to be art and a contribution to culture? At the end of it all – we probably have to tip our hats to Benetton for taking that step and for pushing the envelope.