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ASA upholds misleading “Jab & Go” claim against Ryanair

Published on 09 June 2021

How careful do you need to be in your ads when using phrases such as “Jab & Go” or “Vaccine?”

The question

How careful do you need to be in your ads when using phrases such as “Jab & Go” or “Vaccine?”

Key takeaway

Advertisers must take care to avoid encouraging viewers to act irresponsibly in relation to government guidelines on vaccinations and travel restrictions. Ads which suggest that you can get vaccinated ahead of government plans in pursuit of travelling abroad on holiday or suggesting that holidays will be free of travel restrictions before government announcements may be regarded as misleading.

The ad

Ryanair aired two TV ads. The first ad aired on 26 December 2020 featured an image of a medical syringe and a bottle 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. £1m 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 and if your plans change, so could your booking”. Large on-screen text appeared which stated “JAB & GO!”. 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 complaint and the response

The ASA received 2,370 complaints, falling into three categories:

  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, 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 were offensive, and particularly the claim “Jab & Go”
  3. complainants also challenged whether the ads, and particularly the claim “Jab & Go”, were irresponsible.

Ryanair responded stating that:

  • viewers would understand the ads envisaged a hypothetical Easter or summer holiday and 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 ads’ claims that use of phrases such as “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
  • the use of “vaccines are coming” was not a claim 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 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 ads were uplifting and encouraged viewers to consider a brighter future when restrictions were lifted, and people could go on holiday again. 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. 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
  • 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.

The decision

Were the adverts misleading?

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 from November 2020 to January 2021. However, the situation was complex and constantly evolving throughout that time period.

In that context, the ASA considered that consumers could easily be confused or uncertain about the situation at any given time and how it might develop throughout 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 ASA further considered that 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. The ASA 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. The ASA 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, the ASA 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.

The ASA 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 and therefore breached BCAP Code rule 3.1.

Were the adverts offensive?

In relation to whether the ads trivialised the pandemic and caused harm or offence, the ASA did not uphold the complaint. 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, the ASA did not consider it trivialised the wider impacts of the pandemic. The ASA considered they were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence and were therefore not in breach of BCAP Code rule 4.2.

Were the adverts irresponsible?

Finally, the ASA upheld the complaints that the campaign was irresponsible. The ASA 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. The ASA 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, the ASA considered the ads could encourage people to behave irresponsibly once vaccinated.

The ASA 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, the ASA concluded the ads were irresponsible and breached BCAP Code rule 1.2.

Why is this important?

The ruling highlights the importance of subject matter and the need to take care in wording to avoid being regarded as suggesting socially irresponsible conduct or misleading the public during a particularly sensitive time.

Any practical tips?

Take care to avoid claims that could be seen to encourage consumers to disregard the rule or the spirit of Government legislation and safety recommendations (including those relating to vaccinations and travel restrictions). Doing so is likely to be construed as socially irresponsible.