Royal Mail chiefs have been left to lick their wounds after being battered by the ad watchdog over a campaign, intended to raise awareness of the firm’s ID Fraud Centre, went way over the top by featuring a gang of baseball bat-wielding men in balaclavas carrying out a harrowing bank raid.
The video ad, devised by M&C Saatchi, ran on Twitter and ITV Player and opened with a shot of an every day scene in a bank. However, suddenly a gang of masked men rushed in, shouting: “This is a robbery”.
It then showed a female member of staff being grabbed repeatedly by the shoulder and the wrist and asked her full name and date of birth and other customers asked similar questions about their personal ID, passwords and log-in details.
Throughout the ad, which was more reminiscent of a scene from The Sweeney than a TV commercial, the people in the bank , including a child, were berated by the assailant; some were even crying. The harrowing scenes then faded out to the text: “Your identity is now your most valuable possession. Let’s beat identity fraud.” It was followed by “Visit our ID Fraud Centre for help and advice” above the Royal Mail logo and strapline “The future in safe hands”.
Seven viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the ads were likely to cause fear and distress without justifiable reason, particularly for those who had been victims of violence.
In response, Royal Mail said the ad was created to alert customers to the seriousness of identity theft by likening it to that of a bank robbery. It insisted the level of violence in the ad was proportionate in light of its purpose and was not excessive.
The ASA was having none of it, however, despite saying it understood Royal Mail and ITV’s view that the ad served to highlight a serious and growing crime and to assist customers to find information to protect themselves.
In its ruling, the watchdog stated: “We considered that the overall presentation of the ads, as seen by the complainants, was excessively threatening and distressing to the extent that it overshadowed the message the ad intended to convey
Banning the ad from running again, the ASA added: “We concluded the ad was likely to cause fear and distress to viewers, in particular to victims of violence, without a justifiable reason.”
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