‘Flippant’ Kayak brain surgery ad banned

A “flippant” TV ad for online travel company Kayak featuring a surgeon conducting brain surgery has been banned by the advertising regulator for its likelihood for cause “distress and serious offence”, after sparking more than 400 complaints.


The ad was set in an operating theatre and depicted a patient with a laptop on his lap while a surgeon poked around his brain to make the patient type.

A nurse in the theatre told the doctor: “this is completely unethical”, to which he replied: “my hours are unethical; I don’t have time to sit around searching tonnes of travel sites looking for flights and hotels”. The nurse then pointed him in the direction of the Kayak website. In response the doctor says “well I guess you’re the brains of this operation” and proceeded to move the patient’s arms as if we were punching the nurse, then high-fived the patient.

The Advertising Standards Authority received 441 complaints about the ad, the majority challenging that the theme of the ad was offensive. Some complainants, which included people who either themselves or knew people who were about to undergo brain surgery or had lost family members to neurological conditions said the ad was “distressing and deeply upsetting”.

Kayak said it believe the ad “was so obviously a parody that is was not offensive” because it portrayed a situation that was “completely absurd” in an attempt to make a point about the lengths of time people take to find travel deals.

In addition, it said Clearcast had agreed with Kayak’s comments that the ad depicted an exaggerated situation and cleared the ad for broadcast without timing restrictions.

The ASA said the ad was likely to “provoke a strong reaction” from viewers who had personally experienced or who had family members that had undergone brain surgery.

The watchdog said the ad’s treatment of a serious and delicate medical procedure to depict a surgeon taking advantage of a patient’s immobility could be seen as “flippant” and would be difficult to watch for those affected by brain surgery.

It concluded that the ad must not be broadcast again. It did note, however, that it was unlikely to cause widespread offence to a wider population not affected by brain surgery, because most viewers would understand the “farcical” situation.

Separately, 25 complaints claimed that the ad could be distressing to children and challenged it was inappropriate for broadcast at a time of day when children could be watching. Also, 16 viewers complained the ad was offensive to surgeons and the medical profession in general.

Both of these complaints were not upheld by the regulator.

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