LONDON — Britain’s advertising watchdog rapped Irish low-cost airline Ryanair Wednesday for a flights promotion that showed a young woman dressed like a schoolgirl.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which monitors publicity material but has no powers to fine transgressors, said the image was “irresponsible” as it appeared to link teenage girls with sexually provocative behaviour.
The full-page advert under the banner “Hottest” and promoting “Back to School Fares”, was run in three newspapers that had a combined circulation of 3.5 million last August.
ASA received 13 complaints from readers who found it offensive.
“We considered that her appearance and pose, with the heading ‘Hottest’, appeared to link teenage girls with sexually provocative behaviour and was irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence,” it ruled.
As such, it breached the advertising code’s rules on social responsibility and decency, it added, ordering Ryanair to withdraw the advert and ensure future compliance with the code.
Ryanair told the ASA that the number of complaints was insignificant compared with the newspapers’ combined readership and that the model’s short skirt and bare midriff was merely reflective of modern trends.
The company’s head of communications Peter Sherrard said it would not withdraw the advert, as many leading newspapers regularly run photographs of topless or partially-dressed women.
“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,” he added.
Ryanair has gained a reputation for its near-the-knuckle adverts.
On Wednesday, lawyers for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his girlfriend Carla Bruni said they were taking the airline to court for breaching their privacy after using a photo of the couple in an ad.
In December last year, it settled a lawsuit out of court with Sweden’s ex-prime minister Goeran Persson, also for using his photo in an ad without his consent.
A Spanish consumers’ association condemned Ryanair in the same month for a calendar in which its air stewardesses were pictured in bikinis. And in September it withdrew an ad mocking a statement by the Spanish premier.