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Benetton's lip-locked leader ads: bad taste?

Shocking photos of various world leaders in lip-lock circulated on the Internet today, stirring up a flurry of reaction.

U.S. President Barack Obama puckering up with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas giving each other a friendly peck on the kisser. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak letting bygones be bygones with a stiff smooch.

The provocative images are part of clothing brand Benetton's new advertising campaign, unveiled on Wednesday.

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The campaign – the brand's first major campaign in a decade of largely forgettable ads – is touted as "Unhate."

Alessandro Benetton, deputy chairman of Benetton Group SpA, told The Wall Street Journal that the ads are meant to discourage hatred. "In a moment of darkness, with the financial crisis, what's going on in North African countries, in Athens, this is an attitude we can all embrace that can have positive energy," Mr. Benetton said. The company has also launched an Unhate foundation that aims to promote tolerance.

Six images were released as part of the campaign. In addition to the aforementioned couplings, there is a pontifical peck between Pope Benedict XVI and Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, the imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Egypt, a kiss between Mr. Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao, and the lone mixed-gender embrace between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

On Twitter, the campaign has garnered frenzied responses from all over the world. While most seem to be in praise of the images, the overall response hasn't been entirely favourable.

According to Reuters, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi denounced the campaign, calling the use of the Pope's image "totally unacceptable." Shortly after Father Lombardi made the statement, it was reported that Benetton vowed to pull the photo featuring the Pope, and said it was "sorry that the use of the image had so hurt the sensibilities of the faithful."

Do you think the Benetton campaign is thought-provoking or in poor taste?

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