Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, of which two were Upheld and one was Not upheld..
Two TV ads for Ryanair:
a. The first ad, seen between 26 December 2020 and 3 January 2021, began with an image of a medical syringe and a vial labelled “VACCINE” and large on-screen text which stated “VACCINES ARE COMING”. A voice-over stated, “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, Greece and many more. So you could jab and go!” Footage showed groups of people in their twenties and thirties enjoying the holiday destinations. The voice-over continued, “Book today on Ryanair.com and if your plans change, so could your booking.” Large on-screen text appeared which stated “JAB & GO!”.
b. The second ad, seen from 4 January 2021, included the same imagery, on-screen text and voice-over, except it referred to a different price offer.
The ASA received 2,370 complaints.
1. Complainants, who felt the ads and particularly the claim “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.
2. Complainants, who felt the ads trivialised the ongoing restrictions and effects of the pandemic on society and individuals, challenged whether the ads, and particularly the claim “Jab & Go”, were offensive.
3. Complaints also challenged whether the ads, and particularly the claim “Jab & Go”, were irresponsible.
1. Ryanair felt there were important contextual factors to take into account when considering the ads, including the situation at the time the ads were first broadcast, the general awareness of the public concerning the Covid-19 vaccination programme and the constantly changing restrictions relating to international travel.
Ryanair said the ads stated that “vaccines are coming”, but did not make any claims concerning who would be vaccinated, when they would be vaccinated, how vaccines were to be administered or how long it would take to achieve maximal protection once vaccinated. Nor did they claim that vaccinations were a prerequisite to travel. Notwithstanding that, they said the UK Government had outlined that the planned rollout of the vaccine would potentially mean that relaxed travel restrictions would be in place for all by spring or summer 2021. The ads targeted those who may wish to travel during that period. They provided a timeline which listed developments in restrictions across the UK (including international travel restrictions), vaccine approval and rollout, and Government statements, between late October 2020 and early January 2021. They said that when ad (a) was first broadcast government guidance suggested that a significant proportion of the population would be vaccinated by spring 2021. They highlighted that on 26 November 2020 (towards the end of the second national lockdown in England) the Prime Minister said that “we now have reason to hope that by spring , community testing and vaccines will combine to end this era of restrictions”, and made similar statements on 2 December and 16 December 2020.
Ryanair said the Government had continued to give optimistic briefings into early January 2021. By that time over 1.3 million people had been vaccinated and they intended that a further 13 million people would be vaccinated by mid-February. If the rollout continued as planned, Ryanair understood that a significant proportion of the population, including people of the ages shown in the ads, may have been vaccinated by the middle of 2021.
Notwithstanding that, they believed that the conditional word “could” in the claim “So you could jab and go!” avoided any guarantee in the ad that people who wished to travel at Easter or summer 2021 would be vaccinated in time to do so. Ryanair said that from autumn 2020 the public had received almost daily updates from the media, NHS and Government concerning the progress of approval of vaccines, the planned vaccination rollout through the NHS, and that the three vaccines closest to approval (Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna) would require two doses.
Ryanair considered that any reasonable member of the public would therefore understand that two doses of vaccine were needed to provide effective protection against Covid-19, and that immunity was not granted instantaneously but instead built over time. They said the Government had used the term “jab” to describe the vaccines and they did not think viewers would interpret the word, when used in the ads, to refer to a single dose of vaccine. In that context it would be clear to viewers that the ads did not imply that someone could have a single dose of vaccine and experience immediate immunity, enabling them to go on holiday. It would also be unreasonable for any viewer to interpret the ads to mean that people would be able to obtain vaccines specifically for the purpose of enabling them to go on holiday, or that only those who were vaccinated would be permitted to travel abroad.
Ryanair further said that the ads did not make any representations about the travel or social distancing restrictions that might be in place in spring and summer 2021; it would be misleading for them to try to speculate about what arrangements might be in place. The public were aware that no one could predict how and when such measures might change, and that travel restrictions could be imposed at very short notice by the UK Government and foreign governments, and that they must observe the relevant social distancing measures required in any given destination. They said the ads showed people holidaying within their social bubble, and said that there were no requirements that holidaymakers be shown wearing face masks or social distancing.
Viewers would understand the ads envisaged a hypothetical Easter or summer holiday. Ryanair 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 they believed the ads’ 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.
Clearcast said that at the time they cleared the scripts for the ads the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had just been approved and was starting to be rolled out, England was coming out of its second lockdown, and the Government had announced that families would be able to meet at Christmas. They felt the ads contained a hopeful message that 2021 might be a better year and holidays may be able to happen at some point. Clearcast highlighted that the ads stated “vaccines are coming”, which suggested a rollout rather than that vaccines were available to everyone immediately. Additionally, the ads used the conditional word “could” in the claim “so you could jab and go” to make it clear that not everybody would be able to be vaccinated by summer. Clearcast said the ads did not include any mention of consumers being unaffected by travel or other pandemic restrictions, and did not imply that only those who were vaccinated would be allowed to fly. Because they were aware that circumstances could change, the ads included the caveat that “… if your plans change, so could your booking”. The ads did not depict social distancing or mask wearing as they were hopeful for the future, and at the time they approved the ads it looked like better times were coming and there was a real possibility of holidaying in summer 2021 without having to socially distance or wear a mask.
2. & 3. Ryanair believed the ads 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. They did not consider the ads were insensitive to people who had had Covid-19 or who had lost people to the virus, or to those working in the frontline of the pandemic. The term “jab” had been used widely to describe vaccines, including by the Government, and so they did not consider the language used was insensitive. They also disagreed with complainants who felt the ads were insensitive or disrespectful to those who could not have the vaccine for medical reasons, or who chose not to have the vaccine. Also, there was nothing to suggest those who were not vaccinated would not be able to travel abroad or that unvaccinated people would not be able to take advantage of the discounted prices advertised.
Ryanair similarly felt the ads did not trivialise the need to prioritise the rollout of the vaccine to vulnerable individuals, or encourage individuals to try to ‘jump the queue’. They highlighted that was not possible given that the vaccine was only available to those invited to make an appointment by the NHS based on the phased rollout schedule, and they considered the public was aware of that. They also did not think there was anything in the ads that would encourage either vaccinated people or those who were yet to be vaccinated to disregard travel restrictions, social distancing or other restrictions which were set out in law and had been heavily publicised. Viewers would be well aware that travel restrictions were constantly changing, and customers did not have to pay a fee to change their Ryanair flights if their plans changed. As referenced above, Clearcast felt the ads were hopeful rather than insensitive. They made the same points as those made by Ryanair.
The ASA acknowledged that information about Covid-19 vaccines, the UK’s vaccination rollout, and travel and other restrictions was available from a wide range of sources, and that the pandemic was the focus of the news and government messaging throughout November and December 2020 and into January 2021. However, the situation was complex and constantly evolving throughout that time period. In that context we considered that consumers could easily be confused or uncertain about the situation at any given time and how it might develop throughout 2021. It was therefore important that advertisers were cautious when linking developments in the UK’s response to the pandemic to specific timeframes around which life might return to some level of normality, particularly when linking it to how confident consumers could be when making purchasing decisions.
The ads began with on-screen text and a voice-over that stated that Covid-19 “vaccines are coming” and invited viewers to “book your Easter and summer holidays today”. The ads featured imagery of people, who appeared to be in their twenties and thirties, enjoying typical holiday activities without socially distancing or wearing masks, in four European “sunshine destinations”. The voice-overs further stated “So you could jab and go!”, which was reinforced in large on-screen text at the end of the ads which stated “JAB & GO!”. The ads used the conditional word “could” in the voice-over claim “so you could jab and go”. However, we considered that conditionality was overridden by the overall impact of the other elements of the ad. This included the imagery of the syringe and vaccine vial, the voice-over and on-screen text claim “vaccines are coming” and the large on-screen text “JAB & GO!”. It also included the scenes where several young people were shown close together jumping into a pool (we considered viewers were unlikely to think those people comprised one household) and a couple being served by a waiter, none of whom were masked. In that context we considered viewers would understand the key message of the ads to be that being vaccinated against Covid-19 was likely to allow people to go on holiday without restrictions.
The specific references to Easter and summer holidays directly linked the rollout of the vaccine to the implication that many people who wished to go on holiday during those periods would be able to do so as a direct result of being vaccinated. We considered viewers would understand that this would include healthy young people such as those depicted in the ads. At a time when consumers were nervous about booking holidays, we considered that the clear link made in the ads between the vaccine rollout and being able to holiday at Easter or summer 2021 provided reassurance to viewers that they could feel confident about booking flights, because they would be vaccinated by the time of their holiday.
At the time ad (a) was first broadcast on 26 December 2020, only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been approved in the UK. The planned vaccination rollout schedule, which did not allow any vaccination provision other than through the NHS, detailed a first phase of nine groups prioritised according to their risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19, estimated to encompass around 32 million people across the UK. A second phase was expected to focus on those with a high risk of exposure to the disease and/or those delivering key public services (such as teachers and transport workers).
Following approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on 30 December, guidance was updated to state that second doses of both vaccines could be administered up to 12 weeks after the first dose. Maximal protection was developed two to three weeks after the second dose. On 11 January 2021 the Government published a vaccines delivery plan which confirmed that, based on the aim to administer two million vaccine doses per week, a first dose would be offered to the top four priority groups by mid-February. The document noted that it would likely take until spring to offer a first dose to everyone in all priority groups, and stated that the rollout would be expanded so that all adults could be vaccinated by autumn 2021. It also emphasised the importance of obeying restrictions while the rollout continued.
While that plan was not published until after the ads were broadcast, we noted that it aimed to vaccinate all adults by autumn 2021, based on a scenario in which two million doses per week would be administered. At the time the ads were broadcast the vaccination rate was significantly below that and we considered that based on the information available at the time it was clear that it was highly unlikely that societal groups outside of phase one of the rollout would be maximally protected in time to holiday in either summer or Easter 2021. We also understood that while the vaccines were proven to provide protection for individuals against developing serious illness, vaccinated individuals might still be infected with, or spread, the virus and were therefore advised to continue social distancing and mask-wearing. In that context we understood that any travel restrictions (either on leaving the UK or entering other countries) and other restrictions such as social distancing and mask-wearing were likely to remain the same for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals in at least the short- to medium-term. We therefore 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.
On this point, ads (a) and (b) breached BCAP Code rule 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising).
2. Not upheld
Many complainants felt 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, and 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 ad 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.
On this point, we investigated ads (a) and (b) under BCAP Code rule
Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.
Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach.
Many complainants also raised concerns that the ads, and particularly the claim “Jab and go” implied that individuals would be able to obtain a vaccine ‘on demand’ in order to go on holiday, and that maximal protection could be achieved immediately after one dose of vaccine. As acknowledged in point 1 above, information about Covid-19 vaccines, the UK’s vaccination rollout, and travel and other restrictions was available from a wide range of sources, and the pandemic was the focus of the news and government messaging throughout November and December 2020 and into January 2021. However, the situation was complex and constantly evolving throughout that time period.
The rollout of vaccines and what it meant both for society in terms of enabling the lifting of restrictions and for individuals to change their behaviour was not certain. In that context we considered that the public could easily be confused or uncertain about the situation at any given time. The ads did not make any direct claims that the vaccine could be obtained ‘on demand’, and included the claim “… if your plans change, so could your booking”. However, the ads emphasised vaccines, suggested immediacy through the claim “Jab and Go!”, and featured imagery of people who were not socially distancing or wearing masks. We therefore considered 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. On this point, ads (a) and (b) breached BCAP Code rule 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Responsible advertising).
The ads must not be broadcast again in the form complained of. We told Ryanair DAC 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.