At the time when this ad was seen in February, social distancing applied to workplaces, as per government guidelines.
A newspaper ad for Cignpost Diagnostics, a Covid-19 screening provider, seen in the Daily Telegraph on 6 April 2021, featured an image of two people hugging in what appeared to be an office setting, with a blurred background of desks, chairs and computers alongside the headline claim “Friends. Reunited.” Further text below stated “Trust Cignpost Diagnostics to get Britain back to work safely” and “Download your back to work guide at cignpostdiagostics.com” alongside the company logo. Small-print text at the bottom of the ad stated “Our clinically-led back to work PCR testing programme enables social distancing practices to be relaxed in the workplace.”
IssueThe complainant, who believed that the claims “Friends. Reunited’ and “Our clinically led back to work PCR testing programme enables social distancing practices to be relaxed in the work place”, alongside the image of two people hugging, contradicted Government guidelines to wear face masks and maintain social distancing in public, challenged whether the ad was misleading and irresponsible.
Cignpost Diagnostics Ltd said that they included a footnote in the ad “Our clinically-led back to work PCR testing programme enables social distancing practices to be relaxed in the workplace”, which made clear that they encouraged employers to plan how they could be socially responsible by using PCR tests for whenever their employees returned to the office. They said it would be safer for employers to work with their experienced team rather than relying on an individual’s self-discipline in maintaining social distancing. They said that they were UK Government approved by the Department of Health and Social Care and were certified by the UK Accreditation Service. The ad promoted their back-to-work guide for businesses to help employers understand how best to return their employees to the office once the Government gave the green light to do so.
Cignpost Diagnostics said that the text in the ad and footnotes made clear that they were referring to workplaces and that there was a distinction between rules applying to private workplaces and public spaces. The Government Guidance (the Guidance) on Office and contact centres stated that face masks were not mandatory in offices unless they were customer facing. They acknowledged that at the time the ad was seen, social distancing applied to workplaces. However, they said that the ad was forward looking and emphasised getting staff safely back into the workplace in the future when restrictions gradually eased. On 22 February 2021, the Government announced its roadmap out of lockdown which set a four-step plan to ease restrictions and issued guidance for private-sector employers on why workforces should be tested. The Guidance included a link to a list of testing providers, including Cignpost Diagnostics. They said that their footnote made clear that they offered a clinically-led PCR testing programme and the Government guide explained why PCR testing was more useful and accurate than lateral flow tests.
They had provided testing services to a range of different businesses, many of which were unable to maintain social distancing measures and their testing programme enabled them to provide protection to their employees. The ad was also based on an independent research survey they commissioned which demonstrated that four out of ten businesses did not fully understand the different Covid-19 tests available.
The Daily Telegraph said that they made every reasonable effort to ensure the ads they published were compliant with the CAP Code and on this occasion their internal procedures were not followed. They accepted the assessment and had taken steps to ensure the ad would not appear again in its current form.
The ad was seen in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ad showed an image of two people hugging, and although the background was blurred, it appeared to be in a large room, with desks, chairs and computers and we considered that it depicted an office setting. Claims included “Friends. Reunited.”, “Trust Cignpost Diagnostics to get Britain back to work safely” and “Download your back to work guide at cignpostdiagostics.com”, as well as small-print text which stated “Our clinically-led back to work PCR testing programme enables social distancing practices to be relaxed in the workplace”. We understood that the ad was aimed at employers who wanted to purchase wide-scale testing for employees in their workplaces and we considered that businesses would understand the ad as a whole to mean that taking Cignpost Diagnostics’ PCR test would enable their workforce to return safely to the office without having to practise social distancing and wear masks. While we noted that the ad was aimed at employers, given that it was published in a national newspaper, it was seen by the general public.
We referred to the guidance documents published by each of the national governments of the UK. All were consistent in requiring that people should maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible.
We understood from the Government Guidance on private providers of coronavirus (COVID-19) testing that companies providing sample collection or laboratory services were required to apply for UKAS accreditation and that the Government was aware of private-sector providers who were undergoing UKAS accreditation in order to provide COVID-19 testing services to companies or individuals. However, we understood that the Government did not endorse, recommend or approve any private test provider.
While we acknowledged that the intention behind the ad was to promote Cignpost Diagnostics’ testing service as a way to help employers prepare for when Covid-19 restrictions were eased in the future, the ad showed two people hugging in an office setting, which was contrary to the Government Guidance on working safely during Covid-19 at the time, and we therefore concluded that it was misleading and irresponsible and breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading Advertising) and rule 1.2 1.2 Marketing communications must reflect the spirit, not merely the letter, of the Code. (Social responsibility).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Cignpost Diagnostics Ltd to ensure that their ads reflected government guidance on working safely during Covid-19.