What makes consumers cry foul?

Ads making inaccurate claims received the most complaints last year, according to ASC's annual report.

Advertising Standards Canada has released its Annual Ad Complaints report for 2014, and while hundreds of Canadians had concerns about demeaning or offensive portrayals of the people in ads, misleading or inaccurate ads remain the biggest source of grief.

In 2014, the council received a total of 1,274 complaints about 864 ads. Of those, 96 were resolved through administrative channels before they needed to be directed to council, and 332 weren’t pursued because they failed to fall within the criteria for acceptance (such as failing to identify a specific ad, complaints about foreign ads or ads that were no longer in market). For valid complaints, 135 were eventually referred to council for review and adjudication, where 80 complaints about 36 ads were upheld. Of the total received, 125 were still in progress at the end of the year.

The most common complaints were about the accuracy and clarity of ads that omitted important information about a product or offer, contained unsubstantiated claims or promoted inaccurate prices. The council received 467 of these complaints, 28 of which were upheld. These types of claims, which contravene clauses one and three of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, are the most common type to be resolved by administrative channels, where the council will notify the advertiser in question about minor errors and give them the chance to take corrective action.

The second most common source of complaints, and the area where the most complaints were upheld, were for “unacceptable depictions and portrayals.” While the report says many complaints received in this category are matters of subjective, personal tastes and rarely raise issues under the code, the council received 355 complaints, 42 of which were upheld, most often for ads that demeaned women or “offended standards of public decency.”

The report points out that this is the fourth year in row the council has received more complaints about potentially misleading ads than potentially offensive ones. However, this isn’t the case in Quebec, where 61% of complaints were about offensive ads, primarily those seen to be sexist, with 23% about lack of clarity.

The council also points out growing concern about the blurring lines between editorial content and advertising. Thirteen complaints, four of which were upheld, were for sponsored content that wasn’t clearly identified as such.

Retail ads were the subject of 130 complaints, the highest of any sector. Only 12 of those complaints were upheld, behind leisure services, where 16 of the 101 received complaints were upheld.

In terms of media, 500 complaints were received about television ads, ahead of digital (289), out of home (91) and direct marketing (71). The primary source of complaints for digital ads were those present on advertiser-owned websites. Taking issue with TV ads also seems to be the case for those who don’t file a formal complaint, according to another recent study that compiled complaints about ads made on Twitter.

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