• The advertisement was banned after it was shown online and on television.
  • Regulators claimed victims of violent crime would be particularly affected by its themes.

A Royal Mail advertisement has been banned from broadcast after it was deemed too "scary" by watchdogs.

The 70-second clip shows a group of armed raiders as they enter a bank and take customers' identity details.

Children and adults are seen cowering as the masked men threaten their frightened victims and demand their addresses and dates of birth. One staff member is held by the wrists as a criminal shouts instructions in her face.

The advertisement, entitled "Heist" by creators M&C Saatchi, was shown after 9pm during a break for ITV's Coronation Street on August 5. The video was also promoted by the Royal Mail as a paid Twitter post on July 27.

Seven viewers complained to watchdogs that the advert was "likely to cause fear and distress" to those who watched it. Victims of violence would be particularly upset by the video's graphic depiction of crime, it was alleged.

The Royal Mail has countered by claiming their campaign promoted awareness about the growing issues of identity theft and oversharing on social media.

In 2016 there were 173,000 such cases making it the worst year on record for the offence – an increase of 59% from 2013. They also said they had instructed ITV to play the advert after 9pm, thereby minimising the amount of young people who would see it.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that the Royal Mail was in breach of responsible broadcasting and rules around harm and offence.

An ASA spokesman said: "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 concluded the ad was likely to cause fear and distress to viewers, in particular to victims of violence, without a justifiable reason."

He added: "We told Royal Mail to ensure that in future their ads did not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.

Royal Mail Heist
The advertisement shows a group of armed men threatening  bank staff and customers. Royal Mail/YouTube