On June 10, 2015, the Canadian Competition Bureau launched its new Deceptive Marketing Practices Digest on a pilot basis. It aims to provide businesses and consumers with topical guidance on various advertising and marketing issues from the Bureau’s perspective. The Digest is not a legal document but rather contains general information intended to promote a better understanding of the Competition Act and other legislation enforced by the Bureau.
In this regard, the Digest serves a similar purpose as the Bureau’s previous advertising and marketing-focused publication, the Misleading Advertising Bulletin.
Going forward, the Digest will be published periodically on the Bureau’s website.
The first edition of the Digest concentrates on some topical issues arising through online media and specifically reviews the following:
The Digest reviews the growth of online advertising in Canada and notes that it has become increasingly prevalent and sophisticated. The trends of “behavioural advertising” (i.e., the use of online behavioural data to target advertising to specific customers) as well as “geolocation” (i.e., the tracking of customers’ locations) are discussed. Also touched upon are some emerging issues relating to disclosure in the digital marketplace, such as (i) advertising falsely posing as information, (ii) advertised prices that cannot be obtained and hidden costs, as well as (iii) inadequately disclosed terms and conditions.
Misleading or “fine print” disclaimers
The Digest discusses issues in connection with misleading or obscured disclaimers in advertisements and the challenges arising from digital formats, which may include banners, text-based hyperlinks and short video and audio clips, as well as the interconnectedness of the platforms on which such ads appear. The fundamental principles underlying the existing criminal and civil provisions of the Competition Act relating to representations to the public are also reviewed and are stated to be relevant and applicable to these digital media issues.
The issue of “astroturfing”, or the practice of creating commercial representations that masquerade as the authentic experiences and opinions of impartial consumers, is reviewed in detail along with international efforts to curtail this phenomenon.