The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) has upheld a number of complaints made against Ryanair over a series of ads that encouraged potential customers to book flights because vaccines against Covid-19 were on their way.

The television ad used the phrase "vax and go" while ads on the airline's own website referred to "jab and go", in the context of the vaccine rollout.

The TV ad voiceover said: "Covid vaccines are coming, so book your Easter and Summer holidays today with Ryanair. One million seats on sale from €19.99 to sunshine destinations, in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece and many more, so vax and go."

It was also accompanied by images of a group of young adults who appeared to be aged 20-30 jumping into a swimming pool, while further images were also provided for four named destinations. 

The ad continued: "Book by 3rd January 2021. Travel April  October 2021. Fair difference applies to flight changes. Limited availability. For more go to Ryanair.com."

While at the end of the advertisement an end frame contained the text, "VAX & GO! 1 MILLION SEATS FROM €19.99. NO FLIGHT CHANGE FEE."

On Ryanair's website there was a similar ad, which included, "Book summer", "vaccines are coming" and "jab and go!"

In total, the ASAI received 59 complaints in relation to the ads, which the authority grouped into three key themes.

Most of the complainants questioned whether the ad had the potential to mislead consumers because there was no guarantee that they would be able to travel by Easter of this year. 

The complainants also made particular reference to the age group featured as they were likely to be amongst the last to receive the vaccine.

Some complainants also questioned the reference to the airline's claim that "If your plans change so can your booking," because they wondered whether they would incur an additional cost to change their booking.

A number of those who complained also queried whether the ad conflicted with public health guidelines and whether it would be safe to travel at the time referenced in the advertising.

Some also considered that the advertising was irresponsible, insensitive and offensive and trivialised the effects which the pandemic was having on society and in particular front-line workers. 

They also challenged the reference to "Vax and go" and considered that it belittled the roll out of the vaccination process, the ASAI said.

Separately, the ASAI's own executive questioned whether the ad had breached a section of the code which provided that prescription only medicines may not be advertised to the public.

In response Ryanair argued that the ad was factual and accurate and simply promoted bookings on short haul flights for "Easter" or "Summer" 2021 on the basis that vaccines were coming, a fact confirmed by the Irish Government.

It said the ads invited consumers to make bookings now for travel in these periods, safe in the knowledge that if they need to change these bookings no change fee would apply.

The airline also stated that they believed there was no basis for any of the complaints of breach of the advertising code.

It described the claims that the ad had been misleading as baseless and false and claimed it made no representation that there was a guarantee that consumers would be able to travel.

Ryanair also said it did not consider that there was anything in the advertisement that would encourage people to disregard public health guidelines such as social distancing and other restrictions.

The airline also said it did not consider that the ad was irresponsible, insensitive or offensive, nor did it trivialise the effects of the pandemic on society or front-line workers. 

However, the ASAI committee upheld complaints on three of the five issues.

The Committee considered that the combination of terms in the television ad, and in the website ad when interpreted together, implied members of the public could avail of vaccination in time for at least Easter 2021 and that pan-European travel restrictions would permit such travel. 

In particular, the authority considered it was likely that consumers would interpret the phrase "vax and go" or "jab and go" as an unequivocal endorsement of vaccinating and travelling unconditionally.

It found that public data was highly indicative of a strong prevalence of the virus in Europe at that time and considered that because of the levels of Covid at the time of the ad and because the vaccination roll out would be lengthy, "that it was misleading to invite prospective passengers to vaccinate and go to European destinations from Easter 2021."

Complaints regarding the ads conflicting with public health guidelines were also upheld, with the ASAI finding that the content had the potential to "exploit the credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of consumers and was not prepared with a sufficient sense of responsibility to consumers and to society."

The complaints around whether the ad was irresponsible were also upheld, with the ASAI finding the ad had not been prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and was in breach of the code.

However, the complaints about the cost of changing a booking was not upheld as the committee considered that it was clear consumers could change their booking without incurring a flight change fee but that, as stated in the advertising, a fare difference may apply.

The Committee considered, taking account of the above, that the advertising content had the potential to exploit the credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of consumers and was not prepared with a sufficient sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.

The ad was also not found to have breached the rules around the advertising of prescription medicine.

The ASAI concluded that the advertising should not run in its current format again.

Six other advertisements were found to be in breach of the ASAI Code, including complaints against Tesco Ireland, Goldcore and independent shop.ie.  

"The main role of advertising self-regulatory organisations (SROs), such as the ASAI, is to ensure that ads and other marketing communications are legal, truthful, decent and honest, prepared with a sense of social responsibility to the consumer and society and with proper respect for the principles of fair competition," Orla Twomey, chief executive of the ASAI, stated. 

The ASAI said it provides a free and confidential copy advice service to the advertising industry to help them create responsible ads. 

The Complaints Committee is an independent arm of the ASAI responsible for considering and adjudicating on complaints submitted by the public, by an organisation or by a Government Department.