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Couple Say Tasteless Ad Defamed Them

ST. LOUIS (CN) - A married couple claim in court that Virgin Mobile USA and an ad agency defamed them and invaded their privacy in an ad that shows the husband holding one hand over his wife's eyes and a gift box in the other, with the caption: "Necklace? Or Chloroform?"

John and Jane Doe, of St. Louis, sued Virgin Mobile, Beam Interactive and Relationship Marketing, and photographer Sean Locke, in City Court Friday.

The Does say they "participate in modeling sessions where they have their photographs taken in various family-friendly settings," and that Locke "assured" them "that their photographs would never be used in any offensive, sexually suggestive, or inappropriate context."

But that's not what happened, they said.

"The plaintiffs were horrified when they learned about the advertisement which twists the innocent photograph to depict John Doe as a predator in the act of incapacitating a woman with chloroform, an anesthetic known for rendering people unconscious, in order to rape her, assault her, or otherwise injure her," they say in the lawsuit.

Locke uploads his photos to, to be licensed as stock photos in ads, according to the complaint. The photo agency is not a party to the lawsuit.

The Does say the ad is offensive and defamatory.

"In addition to depicting John Doe in a criminal act and Jane Doe as the victim of that act, the advertisement misrepresents to the public that the plaintiffs knowingly and/or willingly participated in such an advertisement campaign," the complaint states.

"Plaintiffs do not think that rape is a humorous subject. This misogynistic ad makes light of the abuse, assault, and rape of women and misrepresents to the public that the plaintiffs think such subjects are funny and should be made light of."

Virgin Mobile pulled the ad shortly after it ran in December 2012, after public criticism.

"After the backlash, Virgin Mobile attempted to distance itself from the offensive ad," the complaint states. "A Virgin Mobile spokeswoman stated: 'We apologize deeply to anyone who has been offended by this posting.'"

The Does say the ad was so bad it was No. 2 on the Huffington Post's list of "The 9 Worst Ads for Women This Year."

(The worst ad on the list was for vodka. It shows a man grabbing a startled woman from behind, with the caption, "Unlike some people [the vodka] always goes down smoothly.")

The Does seek punitive damages for invasion of privacy, misappropriation of their images, false light, defamation and breach of contract.

They are represented by Kelley F. Farrell with Berry & Maxson.

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