NEW YORK--Ketchum is handling public relations for clothing company Benetton’s controversial new advertising campaign, which has already sparked threats of legal action.

The ‘Unhate’ campaign features photo montages of world leaders sharing a kiss. President Obama is shown with China's Hu Jintao and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is the photo of Pope Benedict XVI, kissing leading Muslim imam Ahmed Tayeb that has caused most controversy. In a statement last week, the Vatican said it was taking legal action in Italy and abroad to prevent distribution of the doctored image.

Benetton responded by pulling the photo and releasing a statement which said that the Unhate campaign aims to "combat hatred" and promote "closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures, and the peaceful understanding of each other's motivations."

A Ketchum representative confirmed that the firm is providing PR support for the global campaign, led by its New York office. It is understood that the agency is working with traditional and social media to drive awareness. Ketchum was appointed shortly before campaign launch, marking its first engagement with Benetton Group.

Benetton is no stranger to controversy, following previous shock advertising campaigns that featured images of death row inmates and AIDS sufferers. Neither, these days, is Ketchum, which is also handling crisis communications for Penn State’s high-profile child abuse scandal.

In addition to the Vatican's displeasure, the Benetton ads have also been criticised by the White House, providing the campaign with considerable free publicity.

The Italian clothing giant has also launched an interactive element to support its ‘Unhate Foundation’, calling for users to upload pictures of themselves in "kissing" the air, which are spliced together with other users to create a ‘kiss wall’ mosaic.