Ryanair adverts encouraging people to Jab & Go have been banned as “misleading and irresponsible”.
The two TV adverts, featuring an image of a medical syringe and screened from Boxing Day and over the new year, triggered 2,370 complaints to the UK advertising watchdog.
The campaign, withdrawn by the budget carrier ahead of the ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority after a fast-track investigation, was the third most complained about of all time.
Complainants who felt the ads and particularly Jab & Go implied that most of the UK population would be successfully vaccinated against Covid-19 by spring/summer 2021 and would be able to holiday unaffected by travel or other restrictions related to the pandemic, challenged whether the ads were misleading.
Others who felt the ads trivialised ongoing restrictions and effects of the pandemic on society and individuals, challenged whether the ads, and particularly the ‘Jab & Go’ claim, were offensive and irresponsible.
The ASA upheld two out of three issues raised as breaching the advertising code.
Ruling that the adverts must not be broadcast again in the form complained of, the ASA said: “We told Ryanair to ensure their ads did not mislead viewers about the impact that Covid-19 vaccines would have on their ability to travel abroad during Easter and summer 2021, and to ensure their ads did not encourage irresponsible behaviour.”
The authority concluded “that the implication in the ads that most people who wished to go on holiday at Easter or summer 2021 would be vaccinated in time to do so, and that being vaccinated against Covid-19 would allow people to go on holiday without restrictions during those periods, was misleading”.
The ASA added that some viewers “were likely to infer that by Easter and summer 2021 it would be possible for anyone to get vaccinated in order to go on a booked holiday, that maximal protection could be achieved immediately through one dose of the vaccine, and that restrictions around social distancing and mask wearing would not be necessary once individuals were vaccinated.
“We considered this could encourage vaccinated individuals to disregard or lessen their adherence to restrictions, which in the short term could expose them to the risk of serious illness, and in the longer term might result in them spreading the virus. As such we considered the ads could encourage people to behave irresponsibly once vaccinated.
“We further considered the ads encouraged people to behave irresponsibly by prompting those who were not yet eligible to be vaccinated to contact GPs or other NHS services in an attempt to arrange vaccination, at a time when health services were under particular strain.
“For those reasons, we concluded the ad was irresponsible.”
However, the airline did not breach another section of the advertising code despite many complainants feeling that the way in which the ads linked the start of the vaccine rollout to being able to go on holiday trivialised the need to prioritise the vaccine to those who were most medically vulnerable.
They claimed this was insensitive to the pandemic’s impact on those who had been ill or who had lost someone to Covid-19, who worked on the frontline or who would not be able to be vaccinated.
However, the ASA said that the advert “did not make any reference to those groups and whilst the tone was celebratory we did not consider it trivialised the wider impacts of the pandemic.
“Whilst we acknowledged that many viewers had found the tone of the ads distasteful we considered they were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.”
Ryanair argued that viewers “would understand the ads envisaged a hypothetical Easter or summer holiday” and believed they were “uplifting and encouraged viewers to consider a brighter future when restrictions were lifted and people could go on holiday with friends and family again”.
The airline “considered that the average UK consumer was familiar with information about the vaccines, their rollout schedule, travel restrictions and the inherent uncertainty in the travel industry.
In that context, Ryanair believed the adverts’ claims that ‘vaccines are coming’ and that ‘you could jab and go’ were not misleading to consumers, “who would be able to make an informed decision about whether they wished to book flights”.
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