It was supposed to have been the VIP trip of a lifetime to the Belgium Grand Prix. But Red Bull has been censured after sending competition winners on a budget haul dash across three countries, making them share a bed and then sending them home early after they were barred from entering the race's VIP enclosure.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has criticised Red Bull for misleading the winner of a competition which stated: "Win a VIP trip to watch the Belgium Grand Prix."
The winner complained to the watchdog after a nightmare 48-hour round trip which offered little in the way of VIP frills. Instead of an upgraded flight to Brussels, the winner and his guest were told to take a budget flight to Cologne airport in Germany and then make their own way to a hotel in the Netherlands.
Red Bull did "not make clear that, other than the flights, winners would have to organise their own travel", the ASA reported.
The complainant had received an email indicating that "the prize consisted of stay in a 4-star luxurious spa hotel". But not only was the hotel not even in the country in which the race was taking place, it did not boast any kind of spa and the winner and his brother were forced to share a bed in a double room, instead of being allocated a twin.
The winners had to drag their luggage from Holland to the Formula 1 race-track in Belgium because "no arrangements were made for him or his companion to store their luggage at the event".
When they got to the circuit they were not allowed to use any VIP facilities. The pair were given ordinary grandstand tickets along with thousands of other fans. To rub salt into the wound, the pair had to leave the race early in order to catch their return flight – this time from Brussels.
The watchdog upheld the winner's complaint that he "had to share a bed with his brother despite requesting two single beds, the general organisation in which the airport, hotel and event spanned three different countries, that their suitcases had to be taken to the event and that they had to leave the event early due to the timing of the return flight".
Red Bull argued that the VIP description was accurate since the Grand Prix was "one of the most prestigious races on the F1 calendar". They said the advert did not claim that event tickets were VIP and that the VIP headline referred to "the entire package that entrants could win, which included tickets to the event, flights and accommodation at a 4-star hotel". Red Bull offered the winner compensation for having to leave the event early.
But the ASA said the term "VIP" would most likely be understood by readers as "exclusive" treatment, and specifically "non-standard", so they would not reasonably expect budget airline flights. "Given that the Grand Prix issued tickets that included admission to a VIP area, readers would expect the winning tickets to include this," the body also found.
Red Bull "did not make clear that, while the event was in Brussels, the winner would have to fly into Cologne airport in Germany and then travel to the hotel in the Netherlands, nor did it make clear that, other than the flights, winners would have to organise their own travel".
The watchdog found that the promoter "had not made available adequate resources to administer the promotion equitably or efficiently" and concluded that the "VIP trip" promotion was misleading and breached the ASA Code.