A paid-for video ad on Twitter and a Video On Demand (VOD) ad for Royal Mail:
a. The video ad on Twitter, seen on 27 July 2017, featured a scene with customers and staff in a bank. A short while later a gang of men in balaclavas with baseball bats entered the bank and shouted, “This is a robbery”. The staff and customers in the bank were made to get on their knees with their hands held up and were threatened with the baseball bats. One female member of staff was grabbed repeatedly by the shoulder and the wrist and asked her full name and date of birth by one of the assailants. Other customers were asked similar questions about their personal identity, passwords and log-in details, while a member of the gang appeared to type the information on a hand-held electronic tablet. One customer offered a gang member money to which he said, “We don’t want your money”. Throughout the scene the members of the public, which included a child, were shouted at aggressively by the assailants, appeared scared and some were crying. One gang member asked another, “Got it?” they replied, “Got it all”, after which the gang left the bank. On-screen text stated “Your identity is now your most valuable possession”. Text at the end of the ad stated, “LET’S BEAT IDENTITY FRAUD” followed by text that stated “Visit our ID Fraud Centre for help and advice”, accompanied by the Royal Mail logo and the text, “The future in safe hands”.
b. The VOD ad, seen on ITV Player on 9 August 2017 at approximately 9.00 pm during an episode of Coronation Street, was the same as ad (a).
Seven complainants challenged whether ads (a) and (b) were likely to cause fear and distress without justifiable reason, particularly for those who had been victims of violence, and whether ad (b) was inappropriately placed at a time when children could have been viewing.
Royal Mail Group Ltd t/a Royal Mail (“Royal Mail”) said that the advertisement was intended to be the start of a wider campaign to highlight the dangers of identity fraud outlined the risks of oversharing on social media, and offered information and services to help people protect themselves. They said that ID fraud was an area of growing concern in the UK. There were almost 173,000 cases of ID fraud in 2016, the highest level since records began in 1993, and a 59% increase of figures from 2013. They said ID fraud now represented over half of all fraud recorded by the Chartered Institute of Financial Advisors. According to a news article they provided, figures from 2017 suggested that those levels would be surpassed, with 89,000 cases of ID fraud recorded between January and June, which was a new record high. In that context, Royal Mail said that the content of the ad was justified.
The ad, entitled ‘Heist’, was created to alert customers to the seriousness of ID theft by likening it to that of a bank robbery. It showed viewers that their identity was such a valuable possession that it was now possible that thieves were more interested in their identity information than any cash or physical possessions. They said 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 end of the ad pointed viewers to Royal Mail’s ID Fraud Centre, which would act as a hub for further information.
Royal Mail said that the level of violence depicted in the ad was proportionate in light of its purpose and was not excessive. They said that there were no scenes of people being struck or physically harmed in any way. There was also no blood, no injuries to people or violence to property. They also said that the physical contact between the “criminals” and the “customers” was limited to the bank clerk being held for a short period of time by her jacket and that the only weapons used were baseball bats; there were no guns or knives. When seeking the ID information, the “criminals” were shouting at the “customers”, without physically touching or harming them at all.
Royal Mail said that the perception of violence and perceived relevance to a specific subject matter was subjective. With that in mind, and to present a more objective view taken from a broader sample of the target audience, they commissioned consumer research prior to the ad being launched. They showed a 30-second and a 60-second version of the ad to 1,000 members of the public who were regular social media and YouTube users and did not use ad blocking software on any of their devices. The respondents were randomly selected and were representative of the UK population: 49% of people who viewed the 60-second ad and 38% of those who watched the 30-second ad said that it raised their awareness of ID fraud a lot; 80% of people were either very clear or fairly clear that Royal Mail was trying to protect them from ID fraud after seeing the 30-second ad; and 85% said that the 30-second ad made them feel they could do something to protect themselves from ID fraud. The response was even higher for the 60-second ad, at 88%. Of those, 47% who viewed the 30-second ad and 54% who viewed the 60-second ad got a strong feeling that they could do something to protect themselves.
Royal Mail said that the messages they were seeking to convey had been clearly received by the target audience and that the ad empowered people to act, which was its intention. Royal Mail also presented some comments provided by the test sample of viewers of the ad, which they considered to show that the context and level of violence in the ad was appropriate to the dangers it was seeking to address. They also said that it showed that the feelings of the victims depicted in the ad reflected those of people who had had their identities stolen and that the message they were trying to put forward regarding the seriousness of ID fraud was being understood.
Royal Mail said that in light of its content, prior to the launch they took advice on the ad from CAP’s Copy Advice team and Clearcast. Royal Mail gave the ad an age rating of ‘over 30’ on social media. They instructed ITV to show the ad after 9 pm and noted it appeared that the complainants had only seen the ad after 9 pm, after which parents would be aware that content may not be appropriate for young children.
Royal Mail said the ad was reviewed by Clearcast who advised that it should only be shown on VOD after 9 pm. They also said that CAP’s Copy Advice team considered the ad for compliance with the CAP Code and advised that the ad should be targeted at an adult audience and should not be placed to appear before programmes, or in any other media, where children would be likely to view it. Royal Mail said that these recommendations were adhered to. They said that they had amended the Twitter ad after the date it had been seen by the complainant so that the following text appeared above the video, “How safe is your most valuable possession?...*Warning, this video contains images some people may find upsetting”. They also said that they did not intend to use the ad again because of a change in business strategy.
ITV said they had not received any complaints about the ad and that, objectively, the ad was not irresponsible. They said the opposite was in fact the case because it sought to educate, inform and address the very real threat of identity fraud. They had been instructed to serve the ad on the first day of the campaign after 9 pm and after considering carefully and proportionately the nature of the ad creative along with Clearcast’s advice, ITV imposed a restriction of post-9 pm for the full run of the ad, and not in ‘Children’s’ or ‘Family’ content when served on the ITV Hub. They considered this to mitigate against any perceived harm.
The ASA noted that Royal Mail had sought and followed advice regarding the ad’s placement from Clearcast and CAP’s Copy Advice team, and acknowledged that the ad had not been shown on VOD before 9 pm. We concluded therefore, that it was unlikely that children had seen ad (b).
We acknowledged that identity fraud was a growing problem and it was important that steps were taken to inform the general public about how serious it was and how they could protect themselves. While we understood that the scenario of a bank robbery was chosen to emphasise the seriousness of the crime, we noted that this was not among the common scenarios in which identity fraud was perpetrated. As a result, we considered that consumers would not be able to clearly see from the ad how they could protect themselves, for example by avoiding certain actions that could make them potentially vulnerable to identity fraud. We noted the ads’ reference to the Royal Mail’s ID fraud centre, but it did not appear until the very end of the ad, during which time the scenario was presented without explanation or context.
Furthermore, because the setting of the ad was recognisable and showed ordinary people, including a child, being shouted at aggressively by “criminals”, lying on the floor and trying to hide behind furniture, and looking visibly frightened, the impact was heightened and there was an added sense of threat. Because of this, we considered it to be reminiscent of other crimes or situations that people may have experienced that extends beyond the bank robbery depicted and therefore could trigger negative emotions for those who had been victims of violence. 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.
We 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. We noted from the results of the test sample of viewers that the ad may have increased ID fraud awareness for those who had seen it. We also noted that Royal Mail had amended the Twitter ad so that a warning appeared accompanying the video and that they did not intend to use the ad again. However, 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.
Ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising) and 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and offence).
We told Royal Mail to ensure that in future their ads did not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.