Telefonica-owned U.K. mobile brand Giffgaff has made something of a tradition of creepy Halloween spots -- previous years' efforts have featured zombies, blood and guts and a horror-movie mashup.
This year's spot, "Monster Family," once again focuses on the idea that Giffgaff's contract-free service is preferable to the "creepy" contracts offered by other, more mainstream mobile brands. But perhaps it went a little too far, as the company pulled the ad soon almost immediately after it began running, as it offended some viewers--not because of it's gore, but for its portrayal of the subject of adoption.
It tells the story of an orphan girl who lives with an adopted family of monsters, including a witchy mom who feeds her worm soup and a young adult Frankstein brother. Things aren't ideal, it seems, but then she's rescued and taken back to the non-monster world. Her new parents turn out to be a freaky, too-perfect pair who want to dress her up like a doll, make her denounce monsters and finally force her to sign a contract offering her a "life of luxury."
At this, she balks and runs back to the monsters. "I'm going to say no to commitment ... no to social norms, no to looking nice just for the sake of looking nice," she declaims, on the doorstep of what looks suspiciously like 10 Downing Street (a hidden message about Brexit, we wonder). It ends with the tagline "Stay because you want to stay."
On social media and on Giffgaff's message boards, while some viewers applauded the ad, others expressed dismay at the spot's negative depiction of adoption.
One viewer wrote, "Next time you design a campaign please get a functioning adult to review the script. I'm stunned this ever left the whiteboard! It started off well but the whole "adopted child rescued by the authorities but given back to abusive kidnappers by the media" plot is incredibly damaging. Topped off with "legal adoption orders aren't worth the paper they are written on while you've got a mob to decide what's right".
Soon after, Giffgaff pulled the ad, and Head of Advertising Abi Pearl responded, "Thank you for your comments. Yours and other comments that we have seen across social media have really highlighted that we got this advert wrong and sadly reinforced negative stereotypes, which was not our intention. As a direct action last night we stopped running this advert. We'd like to learn from our mistake, so hope we can talk about this more. As a business with community at its heart, knowing that we have offended another community cuts deep, and we want to make sure that we make amends."
The spot was created and directed by Partizan's Matthias Hoene, who was responsible for the very first zombie spot for the brand, with media via Havas Media. It broke on Twitter and ran on TV during an airing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
This story has been updated with the recent developments around the ad.