The Italian clothes company Benneton usually courts controversy with its advertising campaigns. Its new campaign is called 'Unhate' which features leaders from opposite sides of the political and religious divide appearing to exchange kisses.
One of the pictures, which will be used on billboards, in Benetton shops and on websites worldwide, showed Benedict XVI kissing Ahmed el Tayyeb, an Egyptian imam and a prominent figure in Sunni Islam.
Needles to say the Vatican is up in arms: "This shows a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence to the feelings of believers, a clear demonstration of how publicity can violate the basic rules of respect for people," said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman.
He said the Holy See was considering taking legal action against the fashion company.
The image, which is guaranteed to offend Catholics around the world, briefly appeared on a banner which was draped over the side of a Renaissance stone bridge near the Vatican, in the centre of Rome.
Hanging the banner was part of a series of "guerilla actions", the company said, which included the unveiling in Paris of an image of Nicholas Sarkozy smooching Angela Merkel and the unfurling of a banner outside Milan Cathedral depicting Barack Obama kissing his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.
The provocative advertising campaign also included digitally-manipulated images of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, locked in an embrace with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader.
Alessandro Benetton, the deputy head of the company, acknowledged that the advertisements were provocative but said the campaign was designed to give publicity to "an ideal notion of tolerance."
I have never purchased anything from Benetton and am unlikely t do so. But you have to admit they know how to take a campaign worldwide. A few controversial images and their name is all over the international press!
Perhaps Duchamp, my place to go for ties and socks (and one of the very few the few designer clothes I wear) could boost sales with a few controversial photos of well known wearers of their ties... I wonder what they could make of Stephen Fry and John Snow!