| Ethical Aspects on Advertising Campaigns Essay

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The United Colors of Benetton is an Italian fashion house that released a number of advertisements in November 2011, in line with its recent “UNHATE” campaign. The advertisements released show digitally doctored images of well known world leaders kissing on the lips. The scope of the advertisements touches on national and religious leaders who currently disagree in their diverse policies and beliefs. These advertisements are currently widely controversial due to a large number of aspects. The two examples chosen for this essay are displayed above.

The first is a picture of Barrack Obama, president of the United States, kissing Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China. The second picture depicts representatives of the two warring religions in the world, Christianity and Islam. The picture of Pope Benedict the 14th, leader of the Catholic Church, and Ahmed el Tayyeb, the Imam of the Cairo Al-Azhar Mosque, a well known Muslim leader, locked in a kiss has generated a lot of criticism all over the world.

Offensive and Harmful

The advertisements shown above clearly breach the legislations set out by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They contravene the ideal that advertisements are not supposed to be offensive and that they should follow the generally accepted standards of advertising to remove the risk of widespread anguish (Miller & Vandome 2010).

The first advertisement is clearly offensive due to the fact that it portrays two men kissing. The picture insinuates that such practice is generally accepted and, thus, a natural thing. The target group meant to see this advertisement includes a wide range of various religions’ and cultures’ members. Such demonstration of kissing men appears to be offensive to those whose cultures are against same sex relationships. Though the idea behind the picture is that of creating unity between the United States and China, the concept was initially wrong as it touched on the moral fabric of very many cultures with specific regard to homosexuality.

The second picture drew condemnation and criticism from Vatican. There were threats that legal actions would be taken against the fashion house by the Catholic Church. The Muslim community also greatly criticized these advertisements. The picture of these two religious leaders kissing implies that the leaders promote and practice homosexuality. This cuts deep into the morals of their beliefs and what their followers follow keenly. The leaders appear to be “preaching water and drinking wine”. The advertisement may be misunderstood by a naive and ignorant people to be real. A person, who is not aware that the picture is digitally enhanced, could find fault within the credibility of his or her religious leader and, as a result, the leaders’ names would end up defamed.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) removed the advertisements and quickly issued a ban on all of the released advertisements by the UNHATE campaign. This was due to breach in the legal and ethical boundaries as stated in clause 5.1 of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).


The advertisements also breached the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) codes and rules that seek to protect children from mental and moral harm (Miller & Vandome 2010). The first picture shows two prominent leaders kissing. Children emulate leaders like these and try to imitate their deeds as they consider them to be heroes. Thus, when exposed to this advertisement, children will grow up thinking that it is not morally wrong to indulge in homosexuality. Due to the reaction on this issue by many societies and religions the child may grow up mentally tormented and morally confused.

The second advertisement corrupts the children’s morality and religious beliefs. The picture is very realistic and children cannot distinguish whether the image was digitally enhanced. The fact that those who teach them the fundamental values, which form the basis of spiritual well-being and growth, appear to do wrong things themselves generates confusion and destroys the foundations of morality and spirituality in that religion. The advertisement shows that the religious leaders practice and encourage same sex relations, which are very untrue. Such images remain etched in the memory of a young child and they create a lot of confusion and moral turmoil as the child becomes an adult.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) places ethical boundaries in the clause 2.1 of the CAP non-broadcast code. Due to the contravention of these codes the advertisements were banned from broadcast (Miller & Vandome 2010).


The message itself behind the campaign was noble. The title UNHATE was very much aimed at inspiring world peace through showing unity amongst various international political and religious leaders. However, the advertisement pictures utilized were misleading to the general public. The first picture of the two presidents kissing insinuates that the two leaders promote and practice homosexuality. However, Obama has a wife and daughters and does not practice homosexuality unlike the image depicted by the advertisement. Hu Jintao is a leader in China, where society does not tolerate gay behavior and practices. The main population is dominated by Buddhist monks and followers. This religion does not tolerate homosexual practices and the picture of their leader kissing another man is very misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) seeks to eliminate such tendencies in the field of advertising (Miller & Vandome 2010). Thus, the organization was obliged to ban the advertisements to avoid misleading the public into assuming that the leaders practice homosexuality.


The digitally altered photos clearly exaggerate the meaning of the UNHATE campaign. The persons involved should have come up with better ways of displaying understanding and unity among the leaders and nations. The advertisements the fashion house employed in previous campaigns indicate that they have the capacity and track record for good and responsible advertising. The advertisers must take into consideration the rules set by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), since the rules have a noble purpose. The advertisers from the United Colors of Benetton should focus on positive advertisements with more neutral subject matter.