A radio ad for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, heard 9 July 2020, featured the voice of a woman speaking with the sound of a taxi in the background. The woman stated, “Me, I’m no different to anyone else right now. I’m concerned about my well-being so I always hail a black London cab. The permanent screen keeps me divided from the driver, it’s like being in my own bubble back here. Sat on the back seat, they’re over two metres from me. And with contactless payments, it’s even safer. I’m a black cab customer and I’m confident I’m safe. Oh, just here please.”
IssueThe complainant, who believed the ad exaggerated the ways in which the features of London black cabs could prevent the spread of COVID-19, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
ResponseThe Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said that in a London black cab there was a partition between driver and passengers and that, when there were gaps in the partition, it was possible to seal them. They said that there was a distance of two metres, with the partition between driver and passengers. The LTDA said that the interior was made from hard and easy to clean plastics which were cleaned between rides. They said that there were separate air systems in the front and back of the taxi. Radiocentre provided details with the internal dimensions of three models of London black cab.
The ad referenced the ways in which the features of a London black cab were suited to preventing the spread of COVID-19, in particular by limiting contact with the driver. The ad stated that “The permanent screen keeps me divided from the driver, it’s like being in my own bubble back here. Sat on the back seat, they’re over two metres from me”. The ad also stated “And with contactless payments, it’s even safer. I’m a black cab customer and I’m confident I’m safe”, and referenced how the features of a London black cab addressed concerns about a customer’s well-being: “I’m concerned about my well-being so I always hail a black London cab”.
The ASA considered consumers would understand from the ad that a passenger sat on the backseat of a London black cab could expect to be over two metres from the driver. We also considered that, in the context of the existing COVID-19 pandemic, the reference to being “divided from the driver” and “in my own bubble” would be understood as an indication that there would be complete separation from passenger and driver. We considered most consumers would recognise that a range of Government recommended safety behaviours were important to help minimise their risk of contracting COVID-19, and that the risk of contracting COVID-19 when taking a London black cab could not be negated entirely. However, we considered consumers would understand from the ad that while using any London black cab, they could sit completely separate, and over two metres, from the driver. We assessed the features of London black cabs.
The internal dimensions showed that in two of the three models there was a distance of exactly two metres or more between the driver and passengers sat on either side of the taxi’s backseat. However, the third model showed that the distance was either two metres or less. We were therefore concerned that it was not always possible to sit “over” two metres from the driver in the way the ad claimed.
We understood that a partition screen between driver and passengers was present in London black cabs and that, where a screen had gaps, it was possible to install an additional seal to further restrict airflow between the two sections of the taxi. However, guidance from Transport for London stated that, while it was possible that partitions may reduce the risk of transmission of infection, the risk would not be eliminated entirely. We also understood that there was no requirement on drivers to install the additional seal. We therefore considered it would not always be possible to sit in a “bubble” completely separated from the driver, as implied by the ad. We acknowledged that the intention of the advertiser was to highlight particular features that were distinct to London black cabs and which might be particularly attractive to consumers in the context of COVID-19 and recognised that these features would have some protective benefits to passengers sitting in the back of a cab. Because on some back seats in London black cabs, passengers would not be “over” two metres from the driver or guaranteed to be completely separated from the driver, we therefore considered the ad exaggerated the extent to which features of a London black cab would reduce the spread of COVID-19 and was therefore misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules
The standards objectives, insofar as they relate to advertising, include:
a) that persons under the age of 18 are protected;
b) that material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services;
c) that the proper degree of responsibility is exercised with respect to the content of programmes which are religious programmes;
d) that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material;
e) that the inclusion of advertising which may be misleading, harmful or offensive in television and radio services is prevented;
f) that the international obligations of the United Kingdom with respect to advertising included in television and radio services are complied with [in particular in respect of television those obligations set out in Articles 3b, 3e,10, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 22 of Directive 89/552/EEC (the Audi Visual Media Services Directive)];
g) that there is no use of techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds, without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred"
Section 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. 2). (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association not to exaggerate the extent to which features of a London black cab could reduce the spread of COVID-19.