A poster ad for campaign group Banks Claims Group, which claimed the Royal Bank of Scotland had blood on its hands after causing “austerity, suicides, bank crimes and economic destruction”, has been ripped down by the ad watchdog after being deemed misleading.
The ad, which appeared on the A23 in South Croydon, was funded to the tune of £20,000 by Scottish businessman Neil Mitchell in an effort to get the Financial Conduct Authority to re-open an investigation into RBS’ disgraced restructuring unit, which had overseen RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank customers.
Victims said their businesses were pushed to failure and stripped of assets at the hands of the Global Restructuring Group (GRG). Mitchell claims the unit conspired to push his own company, Torex Retail, into administration before selling it off at a discount price in 2007.
The poster, designed to look like the front page of a newspaper, even sourced an internal memo in which staff were told to let businesses “hang themselves”.
The Advertising Standards Authority received just one complaint, which challenged whether the ad was misleading and could be substantiated; and whether it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Banks Claims Group did not respond to the complaint directly, other than in an email confirming that Mitchell had produced and funded the poster in a personal capacity and that the ad was placed for serious reasons, and not to discredit the RBS brand.
In its ruling the ASA pulled up the poster on two counts. It insisited that as neither RBS Group or its managers had been convicted of criminal offences as a result of the fall-out, the claim that it had caused “bank crimes” was likely to mislead.
Further, the regulator also took issue with the claim that RBS Group had caused “suicides”, noting that it was not aware – either from the advertiser’s response or material in the public domain – of specific cases of people taking their own lives where their treatment by GRG was documented as a significant factor. This claim had not been substantiated and was therefore likely to mislead.
Finally, the watchdog concluded that the more general audience who saw the ad might find the ad overall to be provocative and the references to suicides in particular to be distasteful, but the ASA did not consider that it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Even so, it ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form and warned Banks Claims Group and Mitchell not to repeat the claims unless they held adequate substantiation to support them.
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