Ryanair's Motto? 'Any Publicity is Good Publicity'

Irish airline's Ryanair's cheeky ads draw censure, but get everyone talking.

ByABC News
February 8, 2008, 10:43 AM

LONDON, England, Feb. 9, 2008— -- What do new French first lady Carla Bruni, the Pope, a sexy schoolgirl and Belgium have in common?

They all are featured in a series of advertisements for the low-cost Irish airline Ryanair that has brought howls of outrage.

Known as the "bad boy" of European airlines, Ryanair repeatedly entertains and enrages Europe with its advertising campaigns.

"Hottest Back-to-School Fares!" screamed one recent ad, featuring a scantily clad model posing in a school uniform and suggestively twirling her hair. The ad earned the budget airline yet another wrap on the knuckles from the Advertising Standards Authority, a British advertising watchdog. The ASA deemed the ad offensive and ordered it pulled. As the agency has no enforcement powers, however, Ryanair refused to halt the ad.

"An anti-brand, if you will, is clearly successful for Ryanair," explains Robert Jones of Wolff Olins, a brand consultant firm. Avmark aviation analyst Deepak Agarwal agrees the campaign is a good strategy. "Any publicity is good publicity, be it good or bad," Agarwal tells ABC News.

And the publicity is even better if it's free.

The advertising authority's ruling last week came shortly after French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his then-girlfriend, Carla Bruni, announced they were taking legal action against the airline for using a photo of them without permission.

The ad showed the smiling couple with a comic book bubble over Bruni's head saying, "With Ryanair, all my family can come to the wedding."

As they waited for the French courts to rule on the complaint, Sarkozy and Bruni actually did get married. And they began their new life together with $88,974 in damages awarded them from Ryanair.

"The fines Ryanair pays out are nothing compared to what they would have to pay an ad agency," explains aviation analyst Dan Solon. "It's basically free advertising,"