The Quebec Office de la protection du consommateur (“OPC”) has launched its new guide entitled “Advertising Directed to Children under 13 Years of Age: Guide to the Application of Sections 248 and 249 Consumer Protection Act” (“Guide”). With the unveiling of this Guide, the OPC continues its mission of enforcing the prohibition against advertising to children under the age of thirteen.

The previous OPC guide was instated in 1980 and referenced statistics of the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) from 1979 and 1980. Needless to say, the Guide has been welcomed with open arms.

There have been no amendments to sections 248 or 249 of the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) or related regulations, so the new Guide does not alter the guiding principles. However, the new Guide is much more user-friendly than its predecessor. It contains several examples including charts, and a summary table that can be easily navigated. The Guide is intended for use by merchants, businesses, lawyers, parents, individuals who interact with children, and anyone working in the advertising or media sectors.

Expansions and Clarifications

While the previous guide focused primarily on TV advertisements, the new Guide refers to any new forms of media and technologies.

In addition, a main emphasis of the new Guide is to apply the criteria under section 249 of the CPA to determine whether an ad is directed at children under 13. The criteria are the following: (a) the nature of and intended purpose of the goods advertised; (b) the manner of presenting such advertisement; and (c) the time and place the ad is shown. The Guide is clear: when assessing a particular ad, a global analysis must be conducted, evaluating the three criteria as a whole, with no single criterion being determinative.

Note that, in contrast with the original Guide, the updated Guide now offers a single threshold of 15% as the touchstone for assessing the proportion of children exposed to advertising during a television show (as opposed to the 5% or 15% thresholds that were formerly applicable, depending on the circumstances). Now, if an ad is broadcast on TV and children comprise less than 15% of the audience, the ad will not be considered directed at children as long as the product does not appeal to children. If the product does appeal to children, even if children comprise less than 15% of the audience, the message has to be designed so as not to attract the attention of children (as elaborated upon further in the Guide).

Finally, throughout many statements found in the new Guide, the OPC reminds us that in the assessment of ads, it is the overall impression that will ultimately prevail!

The Guide is available on the OPC website at http://www.opc.gouv.qc.ca.