Ryanair’s PR disaster

My post yesterday about Qtrax drew some comments disagreeing that it is the PR disaster I’d characterized it as.

Whether it is or not (and I think it is), let’s try this one on for size.

Today, budget Irish airline Ryanair is in the public dock accused of crossing the boundary of taste with a provocative press ad to promote its latest low-price flight offer.

The ad in question is shown here, courtesy of a BBC report.

That report says advertising regulator the Advertising Standards Authority received 13 complaints from readers who found the ad offensive:

[…] after an investigation, the watchdog ruled the advert breached the advertising code’s rules on social responsibility and decency.

[…] The ASA told Ryanair to withdraw the advert and ensure its future promotions complied with the advertising code.

See the ASA’s adjudication report for the details.

But the airline has refused to comply, saying:

[…] "It is remarkable that a picture of a fully-clothed model is now claimed to cause ‘serious or widespread offence’, when many of the UK’s leading daily newspapers regularly run pictures of topless or partially-dressed females without causing any serious or widespread offence," said Peter Sherrard, head of communications for the airline.

"This isn’t advertising regulation, it is simply censorship. This bunch of unelected self-appointed dimwits are clearly incapable of fairly and impartially ruling on advertising."

Mr Sherrard added that Ryanair believed the advert was not irresponsible nor offensive and would therefore "not be withdrawing this ad" and would "not provide the ASA with any of the undertakings they seek".

Sherrard’s first point has some validity. Pick up any edition of a paper like The Sun, Daily Mirror or, best/worst of all, The Daily Sport, and you’d undoubtedly agree.

Yet I think that’s a pretty weak and ineffectiveness defence as you’re not comparing like with like.

It also displays a little arrogance where some humility might go down better: referring to the regulator as a "bunch of unelected self-appointed dimwits" is hardly going to get you much sympathy.

The key point to me is the ASA’s view that Ryanair’s ad breaches not only the code of advertising practice but also that of social responsibility.

You don’t agree, Ryanair, so what do you see as your social responsibility?

Meanwhile, the three newspapers which ran the ad have themselves said they will not run it again. They seem to understand what social responsibility means.

Is this a PR disaster for Ryanair? The ad itself is one thing; how Ryanair has responded to complaints and criticism is another. They’re on a pretty sticky wicket with this.

So it looks like it could be.

[Update Jan 31] I continue this conversation in FIR #315 podcast posted today, addressing some very good points made in posts by Heather Yaxley (it’s not a PR disaster, says Heather) and Dennis Howlett (who isn’t planning to fly with Ryanair any time soon).