The recent “Unhate” campaign by Italian clothing company United Colors of Benetton has once again stirred up controversy. Featuring portraits of world leaders in a lip-lock, the ad is supposed to symbolize “an ideal notion of tolerance” and “the most universal symbol of love, between world and religious leaders.” A straw poll in our office concludes the campaign was more distasteful than popular, but did the brand indeed fulfill their objectives of getting the valued attention of consumers worldwide?
Overnight, articles and mentions in major press publications across the globe had surfaced, from the Huffington Post to the Times of India, crossing over to blogs and trending on Twitter with some 80 tweets an hour. Had it been yet another fashion campaign with coiffed models in this season’s latest clothes, would it have generated as much hype? It definitely managed to garner massive media coverage, although according to Bloomberg, though value of the company’s shares fell 17 percent to the lowest level since 1986.
Inspired by the ruckus, we trudged up other controversial campaigns closer to home (for us here in the Asia-Pacific office) and the world.
Abercrombie & Fitch, Singapore (2011)
In anticipation of its first flagship store in Singapore, the brand splashed a supersized outdoor advertisement of a six-pack model with jeans slung dangerously low, on the shop front of a soon-to-be opened boutique.
Following rampant discussions in the press and online, Singapore’s Media Development Authority enforced a removal of the ad citing exploits of human “nudity,” almost two months after its debut. From what we know, the ad generated more positive buzz than negative, as a scintillating tease that didn’t veer far from the typical A&F brand imagery.
Breast Cancer Foundation, Singapore (2010)
Showcasing an obvious silhouette of a woman’s body and breasts, cartoons covered the model’s bare skin, camouflaging a woman’s nipple as a pimple – with the tagline “Are you obsessed with the right things?” Yes, the imagery bordered on nudity and naturally ruffled some feathers, but it was cleverly and colorfully masked, making it an effective and tongue-in-cheek delivery.
Dolce & Gabbana (2007)
When Dolce & Gabbana’s fall 2007 provocative ad campaign rolled out, it got women heated up but for the wrong reasons. Depicting a shirtless male model pinning a female model down suggestively, with four on-looking male models, it was an image lashed with sexism, notions of ‘gang rape’ and violence against women.
Women’s rights groups from the U.S. to Asia were up in arms over the ad, with Spanish and Italian authorities demanding for it to be withdrawn. The fashion house eventually removed the ads from all publications and insisted it was never meant to be controversial, but an “erotic dream; a sexual game.”
Nike, United Kingdom (2006)
To commemorate Wayne Rooney’s timely foot recovery before the 2006 World Cup match against Sweden, the brand rustled up excitement amongst the nation’s soccer fanatic population with this ad. The U.K’s soccer superstar Rooney had the St. George flag painted over his body, with arms stretched out in war cry, what agency executives call his signature goal-scoring posture.
Complaints were flooding in within hours of this ad’s debut, with religious groups calling it “offensive on many levels” and “trivializing Christ’s sufferings.” The ad was eventually pulled from all mediums.