The ASA has received 269 complaints to date about the horror-themed TV ad campaign with the tagline “Missing Our Deals Will Haunt You” that launched earlier this month.
The regulator will look into whether Phones 4U has overstepped the line in terms of taste and decency with the campaign and the investigation is expected to reach a conclusion as to whether to ban the ad within “a matter of weeks”.
Members of the public have objected that the ads are unduly scary, are unsuitable for children to see, are scheduled too early and are also frightening for adults.
The spot has a Clearcast rating of post-7.30pm, which Phone 4U said, ahead of its launch, ensured the company would not break any CAP advertising codes on harming children.
The “significant” amount of complaints the ASA has received about the ad would have seen it usurp Irn-Bru to become the seventh-most complained-about ad in 2010, were it released last year.
The Irn-Bru ad, which sparked 204 complaints, featured cartoon animals being led by a Pied Piper character to a butcher’s shop, although it was found not to be distressing to children because it was only shown during adult programming.
The most complained about ad of 2010 was from Paddy Power, with 1,313 complaints. It featured a blind football player kicking a cat but complaints about its offensiveness to blind people or its likelihood to encourage animal cruelty were not upheld because the ad had a “surreal” and “light” tone.
Phones 4U was only last censured by the ASA in September for featuring an image of a grinning Jesus Christ giving a thumbs-up sign in an ad that was deemed disrespectful to Christians and was subsequently banned.