On September 24, 2009, Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) published the new voluntary Interpretation Guideline #4 – Alleged Infractions of Clauses #10 or #14: Motor Vehicle Advertising (Guidelines). The Guidelines were collaboratively developed by: the ASC; the Société de l’assurance automobile due Québec; the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators; the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers of Canada; the Association of Canadian Advertisers; the Association des agences de publicité du Québec; Transport Canada; and the Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Yukon provincial governments.

The Guidelines aim to put the brakes on motor vehicle advertising that depicts hyper-accelerated, dangerous and illegal driving practices which stakeholders believe disrespect Canadian road safety and breach the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code), specifically Clause 10 (Safety) and Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals). In 2008, 108 complaints about automotive advertising were submitted to the ASC. Thirty-eight of these complaints were upheld by the Consumer Response Council (Council).

Developing an Auto Advertisement

When Council evaluates a complaint that a motor vehicle advertisement contravenes Clause 10 of the Code, it will now consider four broad questions which relate to speed and unsafe driving practices. To reduce the risk that Council will answer these questions affirmatively, thus increasing the likelihood that the complaint will be upheld, motor vehicle manufacturers and advertisers should ensure the following when developing an auto advertisement:

a. the depiction of the performance, power or acceleration of the vehicle does not convey the impression that it is acceptable to exceed speed limits;

b. the depiction of a vehicle’s handling ability does not involve potentially unsafe actions such as cutting in and out of traffic, excessively aggressive driving or car chases in a residential setting; and

c. the depicted situation does not condone or encourage unsafe driving practices.

Manufacturers and advertisers should also consider whether the advertisement’s depiction appears realistic or unreal and fantasy-like such that it would not likely be copied or emulated in real life.

The Guidelines further stipulate that Council will take into account four questions relating to speed, racing and unsafe or illegal driving practices if a complainant alleges that a motor vehicle advertisement contravenes Clauses 10 and 14 of the Code. To reduce the likelihood that such a complaint will be upheld, motor vehicle manufacturers and advertisers should ensure the following when developing an advertisement:

d. the vehicle is not operated in violation of applicable laws, beyond a reasonable speed under the circumstances (taking into account the portrayed road, weather, traffic and surrounding conditions) or over usual speed limits in Canada;  

e. taking into consideration the advertisement as a whole, including visual and audio messages, the depiction of the performance, power or acceleration and braking of the vehicle does not convey the impression that it is acceptable to exceed speed limits or otherwise operate a vehicle unsafely or illegally;  

f. taking into consideration the advertisement as a whole, including visual and audio messages, the depiction of racing, rallies and other competition environments does not convey the impression that production vehicles could be driven like racing or competition vehicles on a public roadway; and

g. the advertisement does not encourage or endorse vehicle use that is aggressive, violent or injurious toward other road users nor does it disparage cautious behaviour when using a vehicle.