Ad Standards reports record number of complaints

The review body's report for 2018 again found a high volume levied against non-commercial entities.
Ad Standards

Ad Standards has released its annual review of consumer complaints brought against Canadian advertisers for ads believed to be misleading or objectionable in 2018.

Last year, consumers submitted 2,005 complaints about 1,205 different ads, up from the 1,808 complaints about 1,322 ads in 2017. Of those, 747 ads were identified by Ad Standards as requiring a review under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

More than 750 complaints were not pursued, because they either did not identify a specific advertisement or were about ads that were no longer current, about foreign or political advertising (which falls outside of Ad Standards’ jurisdiction) or otherwise did not meet the code’s definition of an ad.

Of the 747 ads under review, Ad Standards found that 167 ads raised a potential issue under the code. It resolved 104 cases administratively by notifying the offending party and having them either correct or remove the ad. The remaining 63 cases were sent to Ad Standards’ independent review council for adjudication, where they were accessed for truth, fairness and accuracy by a group of senior industry and public representatives.

At the end of the year, a total of 35 different ads were found to contravene provisions in the code. Twenty seven cases were upheld under Clause 1 of the code, which covers accuracy and clarity, or Clause 3, which covers inaccurate price claims; six ads under Clause 14, which covers inaccurate depictions or portrayals; and only one under Clause 10, which covers safety concerns.

For the second year in a row, the highest number of complaints (540 in total) were filed against non-commercial entities, most of them concerning advocacy advertising from pro-life organizations that consumers found to be misleading or derogatory towards women.

Retail advertising, which previously generated the highest number of complaints for price discrepancies in ads compared to in-store, came second at 245, followed by ads in the leisure services category, from bars and restaurants, hotels and accommodation and other forms of entertainment.

Once again, television ads garnered the most complaints of any medium at 708. That was followed by advertising on billboards, in transit and other out-of-home media.

Last year saw the highest number of complaints filed than in any other year over the last two decades – the second highest being in 2002, when consumers expressed concern 1,828 times. Ad Standards attributes the increase to higher volume of complaints under Clause 1 against non-commercial entities. “Today’s consumers are knowledgeable and skeptical, and will not hesitate to let Ad Standards know if they believe claims in advertising cannot be substantiated and are misleading,” the body’s report notes.