On March 22, 2017, Advertising Standards Canada (“ASC”) released its Annual Ad Complaints Report – 2016 Year in Review. ASC is the national, independent, not-for-profit advertising self-regulatory body. ASC administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (the “Code”) and, through the ASC Consumer Complaint Procedure, it accepts and responds to consumers’ complaints about advertising.

Complaints by the numbers:

  • 1,639 complaints submitted about 1,237 advertisements – of those complaints 1,108 met the criteria for acceptance under the Code
    • Of the accepted complaints, most related to Accuracy and Clarity (Clause 1); Price Claims (Clause 3); and Safety (Clause 10).
    • The remaining complaints were not pursued because they did not fall within the Code acceptance criteria –for example, complaints that were about ads that were no longer current; complaints about foreign advertising; and complaints where no specific ad was identified.
  • 225 complaints received about retail advertising ? the highest by sector
  • 652 complaints about advertising on television – the highest by media
  • 264 complaints about 222 advertisements warranted investigation; of those:
  • 178 complaints about 171 advertisements were administratively resolved by ASC – Claims with issues under Clause 1 (Accuracy and Clarity) or Clause 3 (Price Claims) may be administratively resolved if the advertiser promptly withdraws the ad and takes corrective action after being notified of the complaint by ASC.
  • 44 complaints about 30 advertisements were upheld by Standards Councils – this represents 4% of complaints pursued.
  • The remaining 42 complaints about 21 advertisements were not upheld by Standards Councils

2016 Amendments to the Code

The Code sets the standards for acceptable advertising and is regularly updated to ensure the standards remain current and in accordance with societal and consumer expectations. A number of amendments to the Code came in to effect on October 3, 2016, namely:

  • The addition of an Interpretation Guideline to Clause 7 (Testimonials) – this guideline was created in response to the increasingly popular marketing technique of using social media influences to endorse a brand. The guideline requires “clear and prominent” disclosure of any material connection between the influencer and the endorsed product or service and this disclosure must be made in close proximity to the representation. This lets consumers know whether the blog post or review they are reading has been sponsored by a brand.
  • Clause 14(a) has been amended to add additional classes to the prohibition on discriminatory advertising, namely “ethnic origin”, “gender identity”, “sexual orientation” and “disability”.

ASCs enforcement abilities have now been enhanced. In cases of non-compliance by an advertiser, ASC has the ability to notify the appropriate regulatory body or provincial consumer ministry of the non-compliance.