Could Ryanair top its swingeing victory over British Airways in the infamous “Expensive BA****DS” case? Well, it’s doing its best in Brussels.
Topic: Comparative advertising
Who: Econophone/Belgacom and Ryanair/Sabena
When: May 2001
No doubt emboldened by its successful defence of BA’s attacks on its "Expensive BA****DS" advertising in the UK, low cost airline Ryanair has now targeted Sabena in Belgium. An ad headlined "Pissed off with Sabena’s high fares?" also features the famous tasteless "Mannekin Pis" statue of a urinating boy found in central Brussels. Sabena has initiated proceedings under Belgium’s comparative advertising laws. These are based on the relevant EU Directive and render illegal comparative advertising which unfairly denigrates or disparages a competitor’s products or brands.
A hearing is due in June 2001, but will Sabena get a better result than BA did in the UK, where a Chancery judge ruled that incorporating the BA brand in what was clearly the word "bastard" was not unfairly denigratory and was simply good, old fashioned, harmless knocking copy?
The auguries are not good for Ryanair. Belgium has a line of advertising/urination case law. Only last year Belgium’s Econophone wanted to emphasise the cheapness of its telecom tariffs compared with Belgacom. In a TV ad it showed three men micturating against the wall of the Belgacom HQ. The voiceover suggested one could protest in a cleverer way by changing service provider. Belgacom sued under the comparative advertising law. Almost regardless of the accuracy of the implicit price comparison, the court found the ad repulsive and unfairly derogatory of Belgacom. It ordered swift cessation of the advertising with a hefty daily penalty for non compliance.
Why this matters:
This will be an interesting test of whether the EU comparative advertising directive is in reality creating a level playing field for advertisers across Europe. But what is it about the Belgians and passing water? Perhaps we should be told.
Thanks to Jan Ravelingien of Brussels law firm Marx van Ranst Vermeesch, European Advertising Lawyers’ Association member for Belgium, for his help in writing this piece.