Benetton 2 Vatican 0

Benetton’s new campaign employs some masterful Photoshop technique, one of  those rare instances where the execution is so flawless, it is the concept.

And who can hate the concept of Unhate?

Unhate is pretty close to love and you can’t hate love, can you?

As masterful as the Photoshop manipulation is, it’s nothing compared to the company’s manipulation of the Vatican.

They hung a huge banner of the Pope kissing the Imam from a nearby bridge.

This unbridled provocation left the Holy See somewhere between St Peter’s rock and a hard place.

Not to denounce the image was unthinkable.

But denouncing it would bring world attention.

Catch 22.

So predictably Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi spoke out against the campaign:

"This is a grave lack of respect for the pope, an offence against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation,"

He said, thus making my underline a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe they didn’t have a choice.

But they did have a precedent.

Because Benetton did more or less the same thing in the 1990s, with Oliviero Toscani’s original United Colours of Benetton campaign.

Only this time it was an image of a priest kissing a nun that drew the Vatican’s denunciation and worldwide media attention.

Given they had no choice, they still had an option to act more wisely.

Because it wasn’t like the Vatican didn’t know what would happen when they denounced the current ad.

True, their protest got it withdrawn, but their intention to pursue legal action will only keep the campaign in the public eye.

And I'm not sure what their legal grounds could amount to.

A case for defamation will be shaky and I predict it will never get to court.

Here's why:

First, is the image actually of the Pope?

Second, if it is, are the image rights cleared?

Third, irrespective of the answers to the questions above, are they objecting to shades of homosexuality, or inter-faith acceptance?

I would say both are equally shaky ground.

Maybe they should have handled it a little less stridently.

A little more humorously.

Maybe they could have said something like:

“The Holy Father endorses love, but not the unauthorized use of his image.”

And left it at that.

Soft power instead of hard power.

I'm neither a theologian or a diplomat, but I doubt it would have made the situation worse.

After all none of the other world figures in the campaign have reacted so vehemently.

As the saying goes, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

But the Vatican shouldn’t feel too bad.

However adroitly they were played by Benetton, it was nothing to the way Benetton played the world’s media.

Will it sell more sweaters?

I think so.