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Fly.be rapped for 'harass Swiss ref' email ad

Budget airline's 'offensive' marketing campaign

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Three months on, England's ignominious exit from the European Championship continues to cause trouble. UK advertising watchdogs this week slammed low fare airline Fly.be for sending out an email ad inviting people to hassle Swiss Euro2004 ref Urs Meier, who officiated England's ill-fated quarter final match against Portugal. Meier's decision to disallow a headed goal by Sol Campbell in the closing minutes of the game made him a scapegoat in some circles for England's exit from the competition.

Fly.be sent out an email the day after England's defeat to Portugal on penalties which poked not-so-gentle fun against referee Meier. The ad featured a cartoon of a man screaming and beating the ground in frustration. Text next to the cartoon stated:

WE WAS ROBBED!! But you won't be with flybe's post EURO blues sale!

As a mark of respect to our lads, and some of the worst refereeing in years we have suspended services to Switzerland, his home country. We may think about bringing them back next year, but we won't be flying Referee Meier for a while! In fact, if you visit flybe.com now you can link through to Mr. Meier's own personal website and leave your feedback on his performance.

The ad generated complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that it was "irresponsible and offensive". Complainants believed the message made a joke of racist attitudes and would incite recipients to harass Urs Meier.

Fly.be said the email did not contain any negative Swiss stereotypes. It asserted that the email reflected the mood of the nation, in a humorous way, on the day after England's defeat to Portugal in Euro 2004. The airline claimed their email did not encourage recipients to harass Mr Meier, but "merely to leave him feedback".

The Authority rejected this argument and upheld the complaint. Yes the email was intended to be humorous, and did not contain any negative Swiss stereotypes, but it was irresponsible of Fly.be to direct more attention at Meier, ASA ruled. The Authority noted that Meier had been placed under police protection after receiving more than 16,000 emails, including death threats, since the day of England's defeat.

ASA ruled that Fly.be's email encouraged recipients to leave Meier negative feedback. The Authority concluded that the "email was irresponsible and offensive, because it could have encouraged recipients to harass Meier".

One complainant also objected to Fly.be's statement that it was going to suspend service to Switzerland as "misleading" on the grounds that it didn't fly there in the first place. But ASA said that Fly.be suspended its Southampton to Geneva service just before Euro2004 and did not plan to reintroduce the route until December 2004, so its statement on that score was perfectly in order. This complaint was rejected. ®

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