Phones 4U escapes punishment for “scary girl” ad

Phones 4U has escaped censure from the advertising watchdog for its controversial horror themed ad campaign that sparked hundreds of viewer complaints.


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 601 complaints about the TV and VOD campaign, which featured a ghost-like girl catching a woman by surprise in a multi-storey carpark.

Complainants objected that the ads were offensive, irresponsible, unduly distressing and inappropriately scheduled at a time when children might see them.

The ASA found that the parody nature of the ads, particularly the fact that the girl mimicked the well-known “Phones 4U” hand signal at the end of the spot, meant that they were unlikely to cause widespread offence.

It said the sense of tension in the ad was “dissipated” by the message delivered by the girl, informing the woman of the retailer’s latest deal and also the tagline “Missing Our Deals Will Haunt You”.

The media regulator also found that although the horror movie theme could be distressing to children, its Clearcast rating of post 7.30pm on both linear TV and VOD minimised the risk of young children having to see the ad.

The restriction also extended to programmes that were likely to appeal directly to children but broadcast after 7.30pm, which the ASA said ensured the ad did not breach the advertising code.

Caspar Nelson, Phones 4U’s head of brand communications, says: “We see the ASA’s ruling as an absolute triumph to creative and impactful advertising.

“The campaign has been extremely well received by a large audience who recognise the classic horror themes, get the Phones 4U sense of humour, and understand what our ads are trying to communicate.”

Phones 4U claims that 92% of 16 to 34-year-olds in the UK have seen the ads an average of 15 times each.

Had the ad been broadcast in 2010, the Phones 4U campaign would have usurped an outdoor ad by that allegedly encouraged people to cheat on their partners, to become the fourth most complained about ad of the year.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here