Canada's Condominium Magazine

Bothered by an ad you saw or heard? Here's how to complain

Considering how much advertising is out there, and considering how much people tend to hate it, we were surprised to learn that the number of complaints about advertising lodged by consumers in Canada is relatively small. In 2016, just 1,639 complaints were submitted, concerning 1,237 advertisements, most of them about ads for retail, and most alleging inaccurate or misleading content of some kind. Very few of the complaints were upheld by Advertising Standards Canada (ASC), following the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

ASC says in a release about this that the number of complaints has been growing, the result of consumer vigilance. Consumers, the standards group says, often spot and report “simple errors” and ASC is usually able to resolve the issue without “going to Council,” as advertisers appreciate the opportunity to correct the mistakes. Of the 225 complaints received concerning retail ads, 44 were upheld by Standards Councils. This represents 4 per cent of all complaints pursued. Most of the others were dealt with administratively, meaning that the advertiser withdraws the ad “promptly” and corrects price errors and the like.

Source: Advertising Standards Canada

Most complaints fall into three categories as defined by the Code: accuracy and clarity; safety; unacceptable depictions and portrayals. These cover ads that omit or distort pertinent details of an offer and contain unsubstantiated claims; ads that, for example, demean women; and ads that raise safety concerns among the public. Just two safety-related complaints were upheld by Councils in 2016.

One of the ads in which women were found to be demeaned and degraded was for an auto repair business in Quebec. The ad showed a “stylized image of a naked woman’s body in the shape of a car with the emphasis on her buttocks.” The complaint alleged that the ad objectified women and the council agreed that the ad used a woman’s body to promote services that have nothing to do with a woman’s body.

Source: Advertising Standards Canada

Other common complaints have to do with disguised advertising techniques—ads that present themselves as editorial content is one form—bait and switch ads that lure customers with low-priced products then inform them that only a more expensive product is actually available; guarantees; professional and scientific claims; imitation; ads that play on consumers’ superstitions and fears; and advertising to children.

New to the ASC’s Code is an amendment that requires advertisers to make it clear when an endorsement in the form of a blog, post or review of a product is in fact sponsored. Consumers tend to trust endorsers, says the ASC, so it’s important for them to know whether the endorser has been paid—must disclose any “material consideration”—for the endorsement. The disclosure must be made in close proximity to the representation.

If you wish to complain about advertising you see or hear, this is the procedure.

  • Send a written complaint either online or through the mail to Advertising Standards Canada.
  • ASC will review the complaint. If it does not raise an issue under the Code, ASC will send you a letter of explanation.
  • If the complaint raises an issue under the Code, the advertiser is required to comment on the complainant’s concerns, and the issue may go on to the Council for adjudication.
  • Complaints reviewed by Council and found to contravene the Code will be upheld, and the advertiser asked to withdraw or amend the advertising.
  • If you, the complainant, or the advertiser, disagree with the Council decision, you can request an appeal.
Source: Advertising Standards Canada

ASC requests that you provide the following information in your submission:

  • Your name, complete mailing address and phone number.
  • Explain the reason or basis for the complaint and, if known, the provision(s) of the Code that may apply.
  • Identify the product or service being advertised.
  • Identify the medium in which the advertisement appears (e.g. television, radio, Internet).
  • For Print Advertisements: identify the name and date of the publication(s) in which you saw the advertisement(s) and include a copy of the advertisement(s).
  • For Out-of-home Advertisements, such as outdoor, transit or similar advertisements: identify the date on and exact location at which you saw the advertisement. (Include a photograph if you can.)
  • For Broadcast Advertisements: identify the station, time and date on/at which you saw/heard the commercial and provide a brief description of the commercial.
  • For Cinema Advertisements: identify the title of the movie, the date of viewing, and the name and location of the movie theatre at which you saw the advertisement and provide a brief description of the advertisement.
  • For Internet Advertisements: identify the date of viewing, website, and include a print-out of the advertisement and other applicable web pages (if any).

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