Royal Mail's uncharacteristically intense 'Heist' campaign, which sought to underline the dangers of identity fraud has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for causing "fear and distress to viewers" without a justifiable reason.
The watchdog has spiked the ad, which depicts a busy bank coming under attack from armed robbers who want the personal details of staff and customers rather than their money, following just seven complaints from the public.
The spot in question was shown both on Twitter, and during a Coronation Street ad break. Some viewers believed it made for traumatising viewing, particularly for those who had been victims of violence while others said the spot was "inappropriately placed at a time when children could have been viewing."
Royal Mail protested that the ad was justifiable because ID fraud had hit record highs in the UK and argued the creative was indented to alert customers to the severity of the problem. It added that many people were "blasé" about their personal information and the context of a bank robbery was the "ideal situation" to seek a reversal of this apathy.
The brand also pointed out that the only weapons used were baseball bats; there were no guns or knives, and that its own consumer survey had found that viewers awareness of ID fraud had indeed been heightened by the film.
Despite this, the ASA agreed with viewers on both counts, instructing Royal Mail and ad agency M&C Saatchi that the ad cannot be shown again in its current form.
While it conceded that Coronation's 9pm placement meant children were unlikely to see the spot, the regulator said: "We did not consider that the use of baseball bats made the ad less violent than if knives and guns had been used, as the bats were often shown held in a threatening manner by 'the criminals' or positioned next to 'customers' heads."
It added: "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. We concluded the ad was likely to cause fear and distress to viewers, in particular to victims of violence, without a justifiable reason."
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Royal Mail apologises for any offence that this advertisement may have caused. We accept the decision and will continue to work with the ASA in future. The ad appeared on social media and video on-demand over a number of weeks in the summer, before the campaign concluded.”