Virgin Mobile U.S. Arm Pulls Holiday Ad Seen as Making Light of Sexual Assault

Virgin Logo - H 2012

Virgin Logo - H 2012

Richard Branson does not own the U.S. firm, but called the online ad "ill-judged" before its removal.

LONDON - The U.S. arm of cell phone service provider Virgin Mobile has pulled an ad that drew the ire of Twitter users and Virgin founder Richard Branson back in the U.K. for suggesting a sexual assault.

The online ad showed a man holding one hand over a woman's eyes with a gift box in his other hand. "The gift of Christmas surprise," its caption said. "Necklace? Or chloroform?"

The mention of chloroform, which attackers use to make their victims unconscious, drew criticism on Twitter, the Guardian reported. "@virginmobileus u think normalization of rape or violence is funny?" one tweeter posted.

Branson does not own Virgin Mobile USA, which telecom giant Sprint Nextel acquired a few years ago. But Branson received some direct tweets and criticized the commercial as "a dreadful mistake."

"Having just seen, for the first time, the Virgin Mobile US advert which has upset many today, I agree it is ill-judged," Branson said. "Although I don't own the company, it carries our brand. I will speak to the team there, make my thoughts clear and see what can be done about it."

He alter added that the company had acknowledged "a dreadful mistake" and agreed to remove the ad.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Mobile USA said: "This image was not approved by Virgin Mobile USA. We apologize deeply to anyone who has been offended by this posting. It was removed early this morning."


Twitter: @georgszalai