Poundland and Dealz, the bargain chain's Irish arm, are running a bizarre and surprisingly sexual Elf on the Shelf campaign this month.

On Thursday (21 December), the posts really began to baffle perplexed bargain shoppers. On both the Poundland and Dealz official brand Facebook and Twitter pages, a picture showed an elf dangling a teabag into the face of a blonde doll, next to a box of Twinings. The post read: "How do you take your tea? One lump or two?"

The post seemed to be a blatant reference to teabagging, a sexual act in which a man repeatedly puts his scrotum into another person's mouth, similar to a teabag being dipped into a mug of hot water.

The post was later deleted and reposted with the Twinings tea box erased, after the company's objection to their brand being associated with it. Twinings said: "We are aware of an image that is circulating that misuses our product. This is to confirm that we had no involvement in this and that it is obviously not reflective of our brand values."

Reaction in the Facebook comments has been mixed. On the Dealz page, Karen Sheehy said: "Whoever is in charge of marketing needs to get the sack excuse the pun, it's a bit too far!" But Mark O'Shea replied telling her to "Cheer up!"

Others argued over whether the chains are family retailers, making the posts inappropriate, or whether the picture would be fine if not for people's "twisted minds". Vincent Cody said: "The picture's fine it's the people with disturbed imagination are the problem."

Poundland's marketing director, Mark Pym, said: "The love on Facebook has been overwhelming, and that's because it connects with our shoppers. We're proud of a campaign that's only cost £25.53 and is being touted as the winning marketing campaign this Christmas!"

They were also forced to tell an outraged customer on Twitter that "The Poundland account has not been hacked" shortly after the "teabagging" post.

Dealz had announced the series of posts on 1 December with a warning it was not safe for work. "Our Elf has been getting some Nooky today!" Dealz said. "Join in with the mischief and share your own pics with #ElfBehavingBad each day until Christmas." Poundland posted a similar announcement, with slightly different wording: "How do you take your tea? One lump or two?".

Women's Aid responded to the tweet, criticising the ad for its "outdated misogyny".

The "teabagging" snap is just the latest one in a series of bold posts, which also feature Paddington Bear being dunked in a pot of Marmite and the elf getting two Barbies drunk. Some were made worse by the caption – a picture of the elf playing naked poker with three other dolls said: "Joker, joker, I really want to poker."

One post showed the elf scratching his nether region back to front using a toothbrush, saying: "That's one way to scratch that itch. That's not Santa's toothbrush is it?!"

Getting in on the current Star Wars fever, the elf also battled Darth Vader – but used a vibrator instead of a lightsaber. The post from 15 December said: "Buzz off Darth, my lightsaber is bigger than yours." The top comment simply says: "Jesus, elf."

George Mcinally reacted even more negatively, saying: "Obviously aimed at a different clientele than I thought. This marketing campaign has sunk lower than I thought you could go. Sorry Poundland I'm no longer subscribing to this. Your national retail company is making this pretty sad." Others called the campaign "hilarious".

Elf farted, or trumped, on Donald Trump...

... seemed to ask for women to sit on his face, saying "free moustache rides" and "first come, first served"...

... swung around naked on a wrecking ball, just like Miley Cyrus...

... and drew breasts on an icy windshield, alongside the caption: "Oh Elf, we know it's nippy outside but not that kind of nippy!"

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