THE BLOG
11/19/2011 04:47 pm ET | Updated Jan 19, 2012

I'm With Stupid: Wear These Clothes While You Kiss the Pope

I don't know a whole lot about advertising. That may seem kind of pathetic considering I made all the ads for a real estate company for a few years, but that was pretty basic stuff: slap a picture of a house on the page, make up some nonsense about granite countertops and an open floor plan, and ship the ad off to whichever publication was running it. As far as real advertising goes, though, I don't have much of a clue.

I've always assumed the point of an advertising campaign was to project the image you wanted people to associate with your company or product. For example, in Gatorade ads thirsty people drink Gatorade, and in Nike ads people do athletic things while wearing Nike sneakers. I can understand that. Those ads make sense to me.

I find myself more than a bit confused, however, when it comes to a recent ad campaign for the Italian clothing company Benetton. I'm sure the ads were probably conceived by some high-priced agency, and I imagine they're considered very cutting-edge, but for the life of me I'm not sure what Benetton's point is.

The ads, in case you haven't seen or heard of them, feature manipulated images of world leaders kissing. One of the ads shows President Obama locking lips with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Another has French President Nicolas Sarkozy sharing a smooch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There was another ad featuring Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam, but that one, to no one's surprise, managed to tick a lot of people off and since has been pulled.

Benetton, in its questionable wisdom, ran a huge banner of the pope-imam image near the Vatican last week but took it down after Vatican officials protested, rightfully pointing out that the ad demonstrated how "publicity can violate the basic rules of respect for people by attracting attention with provocation."

I don't normally agree with the Vatican on most things, but in this case they're absolutely right: It seems very obvious to me that Benetton just came up with the ad to try to get a rise out of people and garner some unwarranted publicity for itself.

If you believe Benetton's representatives, however, that was not at all what they were shooting for. According to them, the point of the ad campaign "was solely to battle the culture of hate in all its forms."

Seriously? Does Benetton really believe that showing the pope kissing an imam is going to battle hate? How, exactly? Benetton is an Italian company. Surely they must have known that showing an unflattering image of the pope was going to make Catholics around the world despise Benetton. I would consider that part of "hate in all its forms."

The dumbest part of this whole fiasco is that whoever came up with the ads didn't even put much thought into the kissing pairs. If the Obama ad is supposed to speak to Americans, it doesn't. Virtually no one in America has any idea who Hu Jintao is. If Benetton wanted to make a statement, they should have had Obama kissing Rush Limbaugh or John Boehner.

And why was the pope kissing an imam? Shouldn't an imam have been kissing a rabbi? If they really wanted to put the pope with his opposite number, he should have been pictured kissing Sinead O'Connor.

Regardless, one thing that the ads definitely do not do is make anyone want to go out and buy Benetton clothing. I would have thought that would be the first priority of an ad campaign, but like I said, I don't know much about advertising.

No, what this really amounts to is a pathetic ploy by a fading company to thrust itself back into the public conversation. In that regard, one can hardly blame Benetton. Since 2000, the clothing manufacturer has seen its market capitalization dwindle from $5.8 billion to less than $1.2 billion. Desperate times call for desperate measures; hence Benetton's stupid kissing ads.

I guess, in one sense, I have to give Benetton some credit. The ads did, after all, manage to get people talking about the company, even if everything being said is negative. And the ads were somewhat successful at increasing brand awareness, at least as far as I'm concerned. I had no idea Benetton was still a company before this whole controversy flared up. I have no plans to buy any Benetton items, mind you, but at least now I know they still exist.

Todd Hartley created the "North Dakota and Then Some!" ad campaign for Manitoba. It didn't do very well. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.

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