Italian clothing company Benetton withdrew an ad on Wednesday featuring a fake photo of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian imam in reaction to the Vatican’s strong protests.
The doctored ad that was a part of Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign is one of many featuring world leaders from opposing sides of religious and political divide kissing each other on the lips.
The controversial photos in the campaign include President Barack Obama and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
[Gallery: Benetton 'Unhate' campaign photos]
[See also: Marc Jacobs perfume ad banned in the UK]
The Benetton ad pulled showed the Pope kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, of Cairo's al-Azhar institute, the pre-eminent theological school of Sunni Islam.
It was posted on Benetton's website yesterday but was pulled about an hour after the Vatican's protest.
Posters featuring the kiss were briefly displayed across the world in Milan, New York, Paris, Tel Aviv and Rome but were quickly taken down.
Benetton had said its “Unhate” campaign launched Wednesday was focused on encouraging tolerance and "global love."
The Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi called the ad an "unacceptable" manipulation of the Pope's likeness and said it offended the religious sentiments of the faithful.
Lombardi said in a statement: “It shows a serious lack of respect for the Pope.” He warned that the Vatican was studying measures to protect the pontiff's image.
Following the Vatican’s complaint, Benetton confirmed to The Associated Press that the pope-imam ad was no longer part of the campaign.
The company apologised and said: “We have decided with immediate effect to withdraw this image from every publication.”
Benetton is no stranger to shock ads, it has long been a part of the company’s publicity strategy, and it has produced controversial campaigns featuring death row inmates and people dying of AIDS in the past.
What do you think of the banning of the ad? Is it offensive or does it violate freedom of expression?