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Ghostly Phone Campaign Is Scariest Ad Of All Time

An ad by former mobile phone retailer Phones4u featuring a wraith-like little girl is the scariest ad of all time, according to our new research.

In the build-up to Halloween, we’ve used our content testing tool, UnrulyEQ to rank the ads which generated the most intense feelings of fear.

Phones4u’s “Little Girl”, in which a woman walking back to her car is haunted by an apparition of a girl offering her a good deal on her phone, had the biggest fear factor after leaving almost a quarter of viewers (23%) quivering behind their fingers while watching. 

The commercial—which attracted 600 complaints from upset viewers, the highest of any UK campaign in 2011, when it was first broadcast on British TV—is 11X scarier and 7X more shocking than the average ad.

That put it just ahead of a 2011 trailer for zombie videogame Dead Island, a chilling 2013 PSA from Fragile Childhood and a 2013 ad for a Japanese tyre company called Autoway, which even includes a disclaimer ahead of its terrifying advert.

All three campaigns left 1 in 5 people who watched them terrified. However, Dead Island’s zombie trailer finished second after generating the highest levels of shock of any ad in the chart. 

“Monsters”, from Fragile Childhood, a Finnish organisation focused on tackling alcohol abuse by parents, was third. Its haunting campaign, which features kids whose parents have been turned into scary monsters under the influence of alcohol, had more shock value than Autoway’s ad, in fourth.  

Other ads to appear in Unruly’s ‘Terrifying 10’ include an ad for a vacuum cleaner that takes its horror inspiration from classic horror movie The Exorcist, an ad for the PS3 that features a very creepy baby doll and a disturbing commercial for Snickers that is not what it seems.

Rebecca Waring, our Global VP, Insight & Solutions, said: “With Halloween fast approaching, it’s only natural that brands want to join in the frightfest by pushing out content that would not look out of place in a horror movie. The ads that feature on our ‘Terrifying 10’ certainly do that. In fact, some should come with their own health warnings before you watch them. However, brands wanting to get into the spirit of Halloween also need to be careful because what’s really frightening when you look down this list of ads is the impact they have on brand metrics. 

“Fear is a powerful emotion, but when you consider that most of this top 10 generated levels of brand favourability and purchase intent that were lower than average, it’s something brands have to utilise well to really make the most of the opportunity. Testing a piece of content before you launch is a simple way for brands to minimise risk and ensure they are not left hiding behind the couch when looking at the campaign results. Don’t post content based on a wing and a prayer or the results really could be terrifying.”

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