There should be market consequences for Benetton: make it happen

I picked this up from Catholic Vote and share it now with you.  I think the suggestions below are good.  Remember that the Christmas “buying” season is coming up.  Make a dent.

I won’t post the disgusting photo in question.

International clothing retailer Benetton pulled a provocative ad featuring Pope Benedict XVI kissing a Muslim cleric on Wednesday after the Vatican threatened legal action to protect the pope’s image.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi had called the Benetton campaign a “totally unacceptable” show of “grave disrespect.”

The image of Benedict kissing Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb, imam of the renowned al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, was pulled almost immediately after the Vatican protested.

“We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms,” a Benetton Group spokesman said in an official statement. [USA Today]

That’s a start, but I want you to join me in demanding Benetton go farther. Why? Because Benetton has a long track record of doing things like this (a previous ad of theirs depicted a priest kissing a nun) and second, because Benetton is going to make a lot of money off of this advertising campaign. It’s designed to be offensive and will attract sales among people who endorse mocking the pope.

Here’s my simple plan: let’s all get together and say “bye, bye” to buying Benetton until they make a donation to the papal foundation.

Benetton claims its “UNHATE” campaign is dedicated to “the creation of a new culture of tolerance.” Fine. The Papal Foundation, the pope and the Catholic Church are at the forefront of creating a peaceful and loving culture worldwide. Instead of trying to make money by offending those who actually promote love and peace, Benetton should help them out for a change by donating a chunk of change to them.

Here’s three things you can do now to join the “bye bye, Benetton” movement:

1. Join

2. Retweet this status announcing you’re joining the boycott

3. Tell your friends.

In the meantime, there’s a Benetton store a few miles from where I live. I won’t be darkening their door again until I see Benetton change course.

Let’s turn this offensive example of mocking the pope into positive support for the pope’s mission!

UPDATE 1: An observant reader notes that Benetton still references the pope and this photo in their online press materials.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. kab63 says:

    What say the Muslims to this ad?

  2. Phillip says:

    On the one hand, we can’t accuse them of holding a double-standard in regards to offending Catholic sensibilities and offending Muslim sensibilities.

    On the other…wow. I found the ad. It says “UNHATE.” The irony, of course, is that it shows nothing but contempt for the beliefs of both Catholics and Muslims. And as far as “sending a message” goes, it fails miserably. If I hadn’t read what the company said about it, my immediate reaction would have been, “What the hell?” not “Gee, what a profound point.”

    Nauseating, really.

  3. Phillip says:

    Oh, and sorry for the double post, but one more point: they certainly don’t care about real tolerance. Tolerance, to me at least, is, “I disagree with you/your lifestyle/your beliefs/whatever, but I won’t shove my opinion down your throat and will treat you with dignity in spite of our differences.” This is the exact opposite. And it’s kind of indicative of a wider-trend in our culture. Once I get past the complete disrespect to the Holy Father and the other guy, I’m just troubled by it. It speaks volumes about the “culture of tolerance” people (and corporations, apparently) are working to create.

  4. cpaulitz says:

    Do people really still wear their clothes?

  5. Peggy R says:

    I can’t boycott any more than I already do. I thought Benetton was so 1980s.

  6. Well, there’s “greeting kiss” and “kiss of peace” type stuff in some Muslim cultures, depending on the region and the ethnicity. But the point of the Benetton ads was that they were mostly showing romantic kissing (except for Obama, who looked like a stiff even in Photoshop). I mean, I’m sure President Sarkozy has done plenty of greeting kisses in his day, being French; but that’s not what they showed. Benetton was aiming to offend or belittle.

    I have to agree that I’m surprised to learn Benetton is still in business. I don’t think I’ve seen any of their clothing in a store for at least five or ten years.

  7. ies0716 says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I think these ads are tasteless. I don’t see how they are directly anti-Catholic, however. Other ads in this same series include President Obama kissing Hugo Chavez and Hu Jintao.

  8. APX says:

    “We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms,” a Benetton Group spokesman said in an official statement. [USA Today]

    Riiiiight. One could dry that one out and fertilize the lawn with it. I highly doubt there were no malicious intentions behind that photo. I’m waiting for the Muslim’s response to this.

  9. jbas says:

    If they want to promote world peace, then they should show images of Christ, the King of Peace, and encourage their customers to follow him.

  10. Ellen says:

    Benetton has been doing tasteless ads for years and years. I’ve never seen their clothes anywhere I shop and probably couldn’t afford them anyway.

  11. William of the Old says:

    In addition, it has a ‘fairly’ subliminal Homosexual undertone to it (the entire ad).

  12. ContraMundum says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of Benetton.

  13. Patti Day says:

    Benetton, are they still around?

    At one time, their ads contained children from all nations, hands clasped, smiling faces. That was a message of tolerance. Some years ago they dropped that and started their tasteless and insulting ads to draw attention to a brand in decline. They have become irrelevant. May they hear the death knell, and the sound of the wind whistling through their empty stores. Also, may the Imams call for a…, well, you know.

  14. randomcatholic says:

    C’mon Fr. Z….. really??? I am a Catholic homeschooling dad, and I know a lot of people in my social circle who are also faithful Catholics and ABSOLUTELY ZERO of us shop at Benetton.

    How many seriously Catholic families raising kids in today’s culture and scraping by the best they can on one salary shop at Benetton!? Let’s not get completely out of touch with reality….

    There is no way Benetton will worry about economic market pressure from those who embrace the culture of life (ESPECIALLY faithful Catholics)…. We don’t shop there anyway.

    Here is what we should do. Ignore this, or at the most send a letter to Benetton reiterating that we will not be shopping there (which they will promptly circular-file…. “like you ever shopped here to begin with” will be the response.) We should NOT be posting it to blogs, starting an FB protest etc. etc… You are giving them EXACTLY what they want. This is capitalism. It isn’t about morality. Benetton comes out ahead with its customers (you know… the people who will ACTUALLY shop there?) for taking on the Pope and getting us in a tizzy. Lots of folks will go to the store and buy something simply because of this.

    We need to think here: These adds are DESIGNED to illicit this reaction… when we react its free publicity for those who actually WILL buy at Benetton.

    And I don’t think we can run around saying that Benetton’s strategy is built on pure anti-Catholic bigots either. They have the POTUS kissing Hugo Chavez for crying out loud as part of the campaign. This is about stirring up controversy, which gets press, which creates free publicity. Its about filthy corporate lucre and clothes made in countries that do not respect basic human rights.

    Don’t buy in and give them what they want.

  15. picayunelayman says:

    Father, how do calls for “economic consequences” mesh with “Saepe Nos”? Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical re boycotting?

  16. Centristian says:

    I’ll be happy to continue boycotting Benetton (I’ve never bought a Benetton product in my life). To be honest, I didn’t think the brand was still around. It’s a puerile advertising campaign, featuring various male world leaders kissing each other on the lips, and I’m surprised that some Benetton executive actually looked at the campaign when it was pitched and approved it, saying to himself, “yes, this will definitely sell Benetton products!” Dumb.

    The use of the Pope’s image takes the campaign beyond merely dumb into to the realm of the positively offensive, however. I find myself surprised, from a pure business point of view, that any company would approve advertising that has the potential to offend and alienate millions and millions of potential customers by mocking their spiritual leader. The sales office was probably aghast.

    I saw the story about this last night on CNN and they showed a number of Benetton’s images of lock-lipped leaders. To their credit, they mentioned the unsettling use of the image of the Pope but refused to show it.

  17. Tim Ferguson says:

    Saepe Nos was clearly not against boycotting as the term has come to be used, i.e., refusing to patronize a specific business, but the specific actions of the original Irish boycott, which was effectively a form of ostracization. Boycotting, in the current understanding, is not forbidden by the magisterium, and does not contradict the teachings of Leo XIII

  18. irishgirl says:

    I don’t do very much in the way of clothes shopping anyway. And I’m surprised that Benetton is even still around.
    I vaguely recall the ads of the ‘priest’ and the ‘nun’ kissing. Didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now, with the insult to our Holy Father.
    I’m with randomcatholic on this one, though. Don’t give these guys publicity-just ignore them.
    I’m not into the ‘social networking-Facebook-Twitter’ stuff either. Don’t want my personal info out there in cyberspace….

  19. picayunelayman says:

    Shouldn’t we be supporting their decision to pull the ad?

  20. Mariana says:

    “I can’t boycott any more than I already do.”

    Neither can I, as I can’t forget their ad campaigns during the 80’s. Apparently they now want to offend new generations of potential boycotters. Great business sense!

  21. Gail F says:

    Bennetton is trying to relive its glory days, advertising-wise, when it had the nun kissing a priest ad and the black woman nursing the white baby ad. Shocking! Cutting edge! Socially conscious! These ads won a lot of awards because in the minds of advertising professionals, they were all about promoting peace and love. Actually, they were all about winning awards and selling sweaters. These new ads are deeply cynical because they claim to be about promoting peace and they are really about winning more awards and selling more sweaters. But advertising folks and designers really do think they are sincere, and I imagine they really do think these ads (there is a whole series, showing world leaders kissing enemy leaders) somehow promote peace. The design industry used to have a campaign called something like the Tolerance Project, which was all about homosexual teens. It wasn’t about tolerance at all (tolerance means people on both or all sides of an issue agreeing to disagree), but they thought it was.

  22. BV says:

    I have never heard of Benetton before this. Just found the following at headline at CNA:

    Vatican takes legal action against clothing company over Pope ad:

    Of note, within the article: “The Islamic religious authorities in Rome are also threatening to take legal action against Benetton for defamation.”

  23. Gail F says:

    I forgot to say: “UNHATE” is not the same as “LOVE.” I’m sure Bennetton didn’t mean it this way — they probably just thought it was catcher than saying “love” — but it’s kind of a sad message. Bennetton was always a European company. I don’t know how they’re doing in Europe, where buying habits are very different from the US (they tend to buy fewer and better clothes; we tend to buy lots of cheap clothes).

  24. jbas says:

    I’m wondering what Mattathias ben Johanan would do in this modern culture clash? His actions two millennia ago brought a complacent nation back to godliness. I think he would lead the boycott today. I don’t think he would just ignore it and hope it would go away.

  25. Margaret says:

    Bummer. I buy exactly one Bennetton product, every several years– their perfume. Guess my last bottle is the one already sitting in my bathroom…

  26. disco says:

    I think I have a Benetton scarf someone gave me as a gift a few years ago. If I find it I will burn it.

  27. Johnno says:

    A better idea would be to mock Bennetton, thoroughly! Photoshop savvy people should make parodies of the Bennetton Ads where they are shown to appear to endorse war, anti-semitism, diseases, abuse of children and women anything considered negative by all and spread them around the net. There is no need to use explicit or overtly shocking material while making these, just tasteful parody images and things to get the idea across and point out the stupidity on Bennetton’s part, with links to an article highlighting their offensive campaigns and not so subtle support of homosexuality along with links to why homosexuality is immoral and what the Curch teaches. You can put these on the facebook gallery page. This will be a far more efective way of getting your message across rather than simply boycotting or sending angry letters, it will draw as much attention to our cause as their’s does for their products. But of course you should also boycott and send angry letters too! We’re at war with the culture and it’s time we adopted the battle tactics they’ve been using to destroy us for years. And no, this is not us ‘stooping to their level’, it’s perfectly legitimate to use everything at our disposal to counter them. And parody, snark, sarcasm, mockery and rhetoric are just as useful today as they were in Biblical times. Read the Psalms, Gospels and Church Fathers sometimes! There are of course right and wrong ways of doing this, but they can indeed be wisely and tastefully utilized!

  28. Martial Artist says:

    I would love to help out. However, despite having been a fan of Formula 1 auto racing since before Team Bennetton existed, let alone before the inimitable M. Schumacher won his first two world chanpionships, I have never owned or purchased anything made by Bennetton, nor have I ever been gifted with anything of that provenance. I do however, solemnly vow not to patronize the firm at any time in the future. As I am about to retire and become somewhat impecunious, I would expect to have no difficulty in fulfilling that vow.

    I will also pray that the boycott will be successful and that Bennetton, and any other commercial enterprise inclined towards the same sort of outrageous advertising “gets the message,” and does so in ♠s!

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  29. Joanne says:

    Benetton clothes are nice, but I haven’t bought any since probably the 80s, and even then, only a few items. They were really expensive. So, boycotting them won’t be an issue. It’s always a good idea too to express feelings of anger/alienation/intent to boycott to retailers. However, I won’t be asking anyone to donate to the Papal Foundation. I’m not sure I trust the Vatican or the bishops to be good stewards of my charitable dollars.

  30. Athanasius says:

    If the Vatican is embarrassed by that, why don’t they cease from embarrassing ecumenical gestures like this or Qur’an kissing. Why is the clothing company at fault for marketing what the Pope does in public? Couldn’t it be the Vatican needs more prudence?

  31. Athanasius says:

    Actually, cancel that. I didn’t realize these were photo-shopped. I thought it was a real picture they were using.

  32. AnnAsher says:

    When I could afford Benetton I didn’t wear it. Now I can’t – like Catholic home-schooling dad.
    Is the photo real? Because then I say the Pope should keep his lips to Christians kiss of peace.
    Also – don’t trust the bishops with money God has given me to steward.

  33. AvantiBev says:

    I love Italian fashion but have boycotted Benetton since it’s 2000 ad campaign. From CNN of that year:
    January 20, 2000

    From Deborah Feyerick
    CNN Correspondent

    Vote What do you think

    NEW YORK CNN Benettons new advertising campaign, which has begun appearing in magazines, isnt about jackets or pants. Its about convicted murderers like Jerome Mallett, a 41yearold Missouri native who has been on death row since 1986.

    I was born. I am going to die, says Mallett, who was convicted of killing a highway trooper. I know Im going to die. Unfortunately, it will be probably through execution.

    Mallett is one of 26 death row inmates profiled in the Italian clothing manufacturers new catalog. Theres no sign of the companys trademark sweaters, just stories about the convicted killers. Benetton says the campaign called Looking Death in the Face is designed to show the human cost of capital punishment.

    These portraits … are the result of Benetton creative director Oliviero Toscanis work for more than two years, in which he visited death rows in several American prisons, says a press release on the companys Web site. Leaving aside any social, political, judicial or moral consideration, this project aims at showing to the public the reality of capital punishment.

    Toscani is no stranger to controversy. Previous Benetton ad campaigns have focused on AIDS, war and interracial relationships.

    I dont think nobodys got the right to sign somebody to death, Toscani says.

    In the campaign, inmates talk about their childhoods, their dreams and their heroes everything except their victims. Victims rights advocates call that an outrage.

    Benetton is glamorizing killers, says Diane Clements of the victims group Justice for All. Benetton has built their campaign on the blood of victims.

    The site Prodeath has posted a protest Web page offering case histories of 19 of the convicted killers including Mallett featured in the Benetton advertising campaign.

    While Benetton tries to improve their poor market share in the U.S., says a statement on the Web page, they are causing unnecessary pain and distress to the families of the innocent people killed by the men the campaign intends to humanize.

    Benetton is based in Europe, where the death penalty is for the most part banned. In the United States last year, 98 people were put to death the highest number since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Texas leads the way in executions.

    Benetton is not paying any of the death row inmates who appear in the ad campaign, which is slated to appear on billboards worldwide by the end of January.

  34. eulogos says:

    Random Catholic,

    What you mean is “designed to elicit” not “designed to illicit.” Elicit means to call or draw forth. Illicit means illegal or forbidden.
    You do have a point, by the way.
    I don’t think I have ever heard of Benetton. Maybe I saw the name in a New Yorker ad years ago? But that just might be suggestion from hearing everyone say it is a “high end” company.
    I certainly have never seen any of the ads you are talking about.
    Sometimes not being clued in is more peaceful for the spirit.
    Susan Peterson

  35. anna 6 says:

    What is even more offensive than the grotesque photo is the implication that Pope Benedict “Hates” this muslim cleric, which is why they are being visually “forced ” to kiss and make up.

    THese kinds of things always invite even more ridicule and disrespect. On the local NY NBC news station they had a survey this morning asking people’s opinions. They showed 2 responses: 1. “Yes, It’s offensive.” 2. “No, It’s about time the pope get’s a little sugar.” Even the anchorman was embarrassed after he read it and he wanted to make clear that it was a viewer’s opinion.

    At least CNN had the decency not to show the photo of the pope even though they showed the others.

  36. randomcatholic says:

    @Susan: thanks for the correction! You are quite right of course.

    This company is disgusting. No one I know shops there. When it comes to their advertising, this isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. As offended as I am by the images of the Holy Father, Benetton has done MUCH WORSE, and has been successful at doing it.

    This is from the LA times:

    “The Benetton clothing company is known for shock ads that have stirred controversy around the globe with images of death row inmates and people dying of AIDS.”

    As troubling as I find the images of the Holy Father, I am MUCH MORE offended and scandalized at the notion that this corporation would use images of the dying and convicted to sell clothes made in third world sweat shops at huge mark-ups to people with too much disposable income who don’t have the decency to check the label and demand that the workers making their clothes enjoy things like basic workplace protections. It makes my blood boil.

  37. Charles E Flynn says:

    Years ago, industrial designer Bill Stumpf (of Ergon, Equa, and Aeron chair fame) gave a lecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. He explained how he and his wife were strolling in Cologne, and his wife remarked that some mittens in a store window would be a good choice for their daughter. Bill replied that they could get the same mittens in Minneapolis. He concluded that part of the lecture with the line, “I want the beer to be good everywhere, and I want it to be different everywhere.”

    I am not certain that the mittens in Cologne were in a Benetton store, but shortly after Stumpf’s lecture, both Benetton stores in Rhode Island closed.

  38. trad catholic mom says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever bought any of their products. Easy boycott.

  39. jaykay says:

    ““We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms,” a Benetton Group spokesman said in an official statement. ”

    Let’s see now. O.k., so they make clothes. They’re manufacturers and retailers. They are NOT a mini-UN, despite their deluded self-image. All this sloppy peace ‘n’ lurve guff sounds like some starlet at the Oscars, gushing forth on her desires for world peace and an end to hunger and…and… like, nice stuff. I’ve seen all their pretentious advertising over the past 20 years and it reminds one of nothing so much as a bunch of overindulged rich kids with too much time on their hands, trying to show how caring they are. Or something.

    Stick to the counter, boys. It’s what you’re good at, since your profit margins are pretty high despite the recession. Not that I’ll be contributing to your bottom line any time soon.

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