Have you ever been misled by an ad and wondered what can be done about it? We often receive questions from consumers about false or misleading advertising. As a provincial regulator, we are responsible for certain consumer transactions in BC but retail sales and advertising practices fall outside of our areas of authority. So, who can help? We have gathered some information from the Advertising Standards Canada website that talks about what qualifies as a misleading ad and how to lodge a complaint.
Who are they?
Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) is a national not-for-profit that is responsible for ensuring the integrity and viability of advertising through industry self-regulation. They administer the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which sets the criteria for acceptable advertising and lays the groundwork for consumer complaints about ads.
What’s the point of the code?
The code was created in 1963 by the advertising industry and various stakeholders with the intent of promoting the professional practice of advertising. That way, consumers can maintain confidence in the ads they see and the brands they support.
What’s in the code?
The code contains 14 provisions that are expected to be adhered to “both in letter and in spirit” and advertisers must be able to support any claim they make when asked. These are some of the provisions that you can find in the code:
Accuracy and clarity. Relevant information must not be taken out of the ad in deceptive ways.
Professional or scientific claims. The ad cannot misrepresent scientific information or make it sound like they have a scientific basis that they do not have.
Testimonials. The testimonials must reflect the genuine opinion of those who had an experience with the product/service and must not be deceptive.
These provisions are updated and amended to stay relevant as the world of advertising changes. For example, with an increasing amount of celebrities and popular Instagram personalities beginning to advertise products on social media, there have been necessary changes to the rules.
These popular figures on social media (“influencers”) must now clearly and prominently disclose any “material connection” between themselves and the product or service that they post about, as stated by the ASC. This means when you see an Instagram post where the person is clearly endorsing a product, they should have an “#ad” or something similar visible in the post itself.
What happens to consumer complaints?
The ASC has independent Standards Councils that complete formal reviews of the complaints from consumers and ensure the review process fair and balanced. The Councils are made up of people from the advertising industry and the public who volunteer their time to support the consumer complaint process.
So, if you have a complaint about an ad that you have seen, the ASC will accept and respond to your complaint through their online complaint platform (or you can mail/fax it to them).
If they cannot accept the complaint because it doesn’t raise an issue with the code, the ASC will send a letter of explanation. If you’re not sure if your complaint will be accepted, you can take a look at the exclusions and non-reviewable complaints sections of the code.
If the Council determines that the ad is breaking the rules of the code, they will “uphold” the complaint and the advertiser will be asked to change or end the ad entirely. Either way, the Council will inform the consumer of the decision.
If you are unhappy with the decision from the Council you can request an appeal within 7 days of receiving it.