As advertisements, they achieved what they set out to do: grab our attention.
Now, the eyebrow-raising Benetton ads that saw President Barack Obama locking lips with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have scored one of the industry's highest accolades, winning the Press Grand Prix at Cannes Ad Festival.
In Benetton's signature subversive style, the 'Unhate' campaign drew immediate - and hugely authoritative - condemnation, not least from the Vatican which objected to one image of Pope Benedict XVI in a steamy clinch with a Muslim imam.
A third ad saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planting a kiss on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' lips, while Germany's Angela Merkel was not spared the clever artwork, pitched in a steamy moment with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Within hours of the ads going public last November, Benetton was forced to pull the controversial image of the Pope from the series, apologising and reiterating "that the meaning of this campaign [was] exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms."
The clothing company further agreed to make a "small but effective" donation to a Catholic charity.
Ad Age reports that it was not only Rome who had misgivings about the images - publications including the International Herald Tribune and the Guardian refused to run the artwork.
Ruffled feathers and international debate did little to deter judges, however.
Jury president Tham Khai Meng said that Benetton "has heart impact and gut impact and promotes a global debate."
Steve Jones, a British juror at the French Riviera event said: "The reason we chose this is because it stood out on the wall ... It's not like traditional advertising. It's not making a point about the clothes, its brand history. It doesn't obey the rules."
His sentiments were echoed by co-juror Komal Bedi Sohal, from the UAE, who added: "You can like it, you can dislike it, you can't ignore it."