Virgin Mobile US scrapped an online advertisement that appeared to make light of rape over the weekend after online backlash and harsh criticism from Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson, according to news reports.
The ad in question showed a man covering a woman’s eyes and holding a present by her neck with the caption “The gift of Christmas surprise. Necklace? Or chloroform.”
A movement began on Twitter to get the company to pull the ad, according to reports. It was started by the twitter handle of “The Everyday Sexism Project,” a site that documents women’s experiences facing sexism in today’s culture.
“Please tweet @richardbranson @virgimobileus if you think using rape/domestic violence jokes to sell products isn’t ok pic.twitter.com/j9f4sRYv,” the group, which currently boasts just under 18,00 followers tweeted.
In the midst of the Twitter backlash, Branson slammed the ad on his blog, noting that while he does not own the company, it does carry the Virgin brand.
“Having just seen, for the first time, the Virgin Mobile US advert which has upset many today, I agree it is ill-judged,” Branson wrote in part over the weekend.
“Virgin Mobile US usually get these things right, although on this occasion it is clear they have gone too far,” he noted.
Branson then added an update to his post saying that he had spoken with the Virgin Mobile US team and that they have removed the offending ad.
“Having spoken with them just now they acknowledge a dreadful mistake was made. The advert, along with the whole calendar, has been removed, never to be seen again,” he wrote.
The director of brand marketing Ron Faris emailed Buzzfeed his assurance that the company does not condone domestic violence and apologized for the offensive advertisement.
“This was a rogue post by an external agency that was not approved by the Virgin Mobile USA brand marketing group,” Faris emailed Buzzfeed. “We have since spoken to our outside agencies and reinforced our company policy. In no way does Virgin Mobile USA support sexism or domestic violence. Our efforts towards eradicating youth homelessness clearly reflect the types of issues we tackle in the face of adversity. We apologize deeply to anyone who has been offended by this posting. It was removed early this morning.”