The ad depicted a man holding a gift while shielding a woman’s eyes with the caption: ‘The gift of Christmas surprise. Necklace? Or chloroform.’
References to the organic compound, once used as an anaesthetic but also as a tool for criminals to knock out their victims, sparked an immediate online backlash on Twitter.
Many targeted their rage at Branson, prompting him to write on his blog that the ad was “ill-judged” and the company had “gone too far”.
“Although I don’t own the company, it carries our brand … having spoken with them just now they acknowledge a dreadful mistake was made,” Branson wrote. “The advert, along with the whole calendar, has been removed, never to be seen again.”
An earlier posting reportedly in the Christmas ad campaign showed Santa giving a thumbs up with the caption: ‘Sees you when you’re sleeping - ladies.’’
Virgin Mobile US is owned by Sprint Nextel.
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