Competition Bureau to increase enforcement of ‘deceptive’ online ads

The law enforcement agency wants to improve Canadian trust in the online marketplace.

The Canadian Competition Bureau has released its strategic vision for the next four years, which reveals plans to increase enforcement in a number of areas, including online marketing.

Titled “Competition in the Digital Age,” the document places a strong focus on the increased role timely action and proactive enforcement will play in the Bureau’s activities in stopping harmful mergers, abuses of market power, cartels and deceptive marketing practices. When possible, this enforcement will be focused on the sectors of the economy it says are most important to Canadians, where it once again names online marketing, as well as anti-competitive activities in telecommunications, financial services, health and infrastructure.

When it comes to its overall mandate of promoting competitive markets throughout Canada, the Bureau says the focus on deceptive ads contributes by helping Canadians protect themselves from fraud and improving their trust in the online marketplace. The Bureau says it will also conduct targeted outreach to help segments of the population most at-risk for fraud and deceptive marketing, such as seniors and new Canadians.

In response to the strategic plan, the Canadian Marketing Association has encouraged its members to have their regulatory and legal teams ensure their practices are compliant as soon as possible, as well as check with its own recently updated Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. While the types of “deceptive” advertising described in the Bureau’s plan seems to be the type that would come from less scrupulous organizations, the CMA points out that several areas of marketing have received increased scrutiny from the Bureau recently, meaning marketing departments of all sizes should be doing their due diligence.

In December, the Bureau announced that it had sent letters to nearly 100 brands and agencies, advising them to review their marketing practices to ensure they comply with the law. The outreach was promoted by “a thorough review” of influencer marketing practices conducted by the Bureau across various industries, which it says included health and beauty, fashion, technology and travel, though it has not disclosed if there were any particular infractions that prompted it to reach out to the marketing industry.

Influencer marketing, like all marketing and advertising, is covered by the Competition Act, which focuses primarily on ensuring that influencers disclose any material connection it may have with companies, brands or products they are promoting, as well that those disclosures are visible and understandable – a responsibility that is shared by both the influencers and the brands that hire them. In 2018, Ad Standards created a guide to help both parties ensure their content is compliant.