Friday, 17 October 2008

Ryanair 'sexist' Swedish ad - Ryanair reprimanded by ERK but responding controversially to gain additional publicity

Last week (9th Oct) Ryanair were reprimanded by Sweden's Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in advertising (ERK) over an ad that Ryanair ran in 2007. The ad, headlined 'Hetaste Skolstartspriserna' ('Hottest School Prices'), promoted a back to school fare sale and featured a model wearing scanty school uniform.

The ERK ruled that the model "is used to catch the eye in a sexual manner that is offensive to women in general." However, rather than accepting the ruling Ryanair are reported to have responded with a series of (childish) comments that seem to be designed to keep this story in the news.

The day after the ruling Ryanair are reported as saying:

- It had had no complaints about this campaign
- “The ad simply reflects the way a lot of young girls like to dress. We hope the old farts at the ERK loosen up a little.”
- “Ryanair defends the right of Swedish girls to take their clothes off."
- Ryanair could re-launch the campaign “because it has generated so much interest”

Understandably this has provoked response and Birgitta Ohlsson, one of Sweden's most prominent female politicians, has called for a boycott of Ryanair in response to its attitude in the aftermath of the ERK ruling.

Ryanair are reported to have responded almost immediately:

- calling it "a storm in a D-Cup"
- stating that “we’re sure that Boring Birgitta will be overrun by the flood of right minded, liberal, people who support Ryanair’s determination to defend the rights of girls and boys to get their kit off – if they want to”
- offering to send "free tickets to Boring Birgitta so that she can take a nice relaxing break, loosen up a little and stop calling for silly boycotts.”

Ryanair have been (proudly) running controversial advertising for many years and living off the additional PR that it has created - regularly falling foul of advertising standards bodies in the process. Whilst this is not the first time that Ryanair has courted controversy through sexism (Media Culpa commented on this one), I just don't understand how the current stories could benefit their brand. Yes, they will get additional brand exposure (I'm writing about it for a start), but Ryanair are already well known in Sweden and I don't understand how alienating and upsetting a large part of the Swedish population can therefore result in anything productive?

Triggering viral effects and word of mouth can be a useful marketing ploy, but in this case I think Ryanair would have been better off keeping quiet.

Credit to The Local for the series of stories reporting this over the last week.

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