Benetton ads draw criticism from White House, Vatican

Benetton ads depicting President Obama and other heads of state kissing have been met with criticism from leaders and the faithful alike.

Charles Platiau/Reuters
Benetton ads draw criticism: People walk past a billboard of a photo montage with President Barack Obama kissing China's President Hu Jintao displayed on a Benetton store in Paris Thursday. Photo montages of the advertising campaign, which Benetton says supports the Unhate Foundation, show world leaders kissing each other on the mouth.

An advertising campaign that depicts U.S. President Barack Obama kissing two male world leaders on the mouth drew a critical response from the White House on Thursday.

"The White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president's name and likeness for commercial purposes,'' said White House Spokesman Eric Schultz.

The "Unhate'' campaign for Italian clothing firm Benetton showed various world leaders kissing, including Obama lip-locked with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a longtime Washington adversary.

The White House jealously guards Obama's image and objected last year when a garment company transformed a picture of him, in what appeared to be one its winter coats during a trip to China, into a billboard overlooking Times Square in New York. The advert was subsequently taken down.

Schultz declined to say if the White House would contact Benetton directly to express its objections.

The ad also depicts an amorous German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who have butted heads over a European debt plan, as well as Pope Benedict kissing a male imam on the mouth.

Benetton withdrew the ad after the Vatican protested on Wednesday. The Vatican is taking legal action to stop distribution of the image.

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