The nine metre-high billboard by fashion company Rosso di Sera is emblazoned with an image of a woman dressed in a nun’s habit. Her hands are clasped around a rosary, as if in prayer, partly covering her bare chest.
The provocative photo has caused a stir in the southern Italian city, which is set for a papal visit on March 21st.
One local man described it as an “ugly image”, while a woman walking by the advert told Il Sole 24 Ore it could have been made “a bit less obscene”.
Another passer-by however said the creative campaign was “exceptional” from a marketing point of view. The controversy sparked by the image will now ensure the advert is seen by a far larger public, particularly as it comes ahead of a papal visit, he said.
But Rosso di Sera denied the billboard had been tactfully timed, stating the poster had been planned long before Pope Francis’ upcoming visit was announced.
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“We recognize that we have made a strong marketing choice but there was no intent to blaspheme,” the company said in a statement published by Gazzetta del Sud.
“Trivializing the act of prayer was not the intention in any way,” Rosso di Sera said, adding that the company “strongly regrets being accused of things extremely far from our values and our culture.”