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Recent Complaint Case Summaries

Overview

The following are case summaries of consumer complaints about advertising that were recently upheld by Standards Councils (Councils). Councils are composed of senior advertising industry and public representatives, who volunteer their time to adjudicate consumer complaints under the provisions of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code).

The case summaries are divided into two sections.

Identified Cases

This section identifies the involved advertisers and provides details about consumers’ complaints regarding advertisements that were found by Council to contravene the Code. In this section, the advertising in question was not withdrawn or amended before Council met to deliberate on the complaint. Where provided, an “Advertiser’s Statement” is included in the case summary.

Non-Identified Cases

This section summarizes consumer complaints upheld by Council without identifying the advertiser or the advertisement. In these cases, the advertiser either withdrew, permanently retired, or appropriately amended the advertisement in question after being advised by Advertising Standards Canada that a complaint had been received, but before the matter was adjudicated by Council.

As required by the Code, retail advertisers also ran timely corrective advertisements in consumer-oriented media that reached the same consumers to whom the original advertising was directed.

For information about the Code and the Consumer Complaint Procedure, select the following links:

Canadian Code of Advertising Standards
Consumer Complaint Procedure


Identified Cases - January 1, 2018 - Oct 23, 2018
Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Domino’s Pizza of Canada Ltd.
Industry: Leisure services - Restaurants and bars
Region: Manitoba
Media: Direct Marketing - Post
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser offered a large 2-topping pizza and 2 litre beverage for $10.99. To redeem the offer, a coupon code had to be entered when ordering online. The coupon did not indicate the effective start date of the offer.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was misleading because he was unable to successfully order the advertised pizza and beverage even after properly entering the coupon code.
Decision: The advertiser acknowledged the complainant must have received and acted on the advertised offer one day earlier than the intended (but undisclosed) start date. Based on the facts, Council found that the advertisement omitted relevant information about the start date for the promotion.
Infraction: Clause 1(c).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: HomeAway VRBO Rentals
Industry: Real estate services
Region: National
Media: Digital - Marketer - Owned Websites
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A vacation property in Ontario was listed for rental on the advertiser’s website. After inputting the booking dates the complainant wanted, she was given an online price quote of $1427.78 (including taxes and fees). When she clicked a “Request to Book Now” button, she was taken to another page in which the quote had increased significantly from the one displayed on the previous page. It was listed in US currency at $1824.82, but payment had to be made in the property’s currency, i.e. Canadian dollars. This resulted in a total price of CDN$2,298.00.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was misleading.
Decision: Council understood that although the rental cost of the Ontario property was expressed in US currency on the advertiser’s website, that fact was not disclosed on the website until the Canadian complainant attempted to book the Ontario property. In Council’s view, the complainant reasonably assumed that, in the absence of any up-front disclosure to the contrary, the price initially quoted on a website that was accessed in Canada to rent a vacation property located in Ontario would be expressed in Canadian currency. Council thought it was entirely reasonable for the complainant to expect that if the rental price was being expressed in a currency other than Canadian dollars, that fact should have been, but was not, clearly disclosed before the complainant clicked on the “Request to Book” button. Council found, therefore, that the advertisement was misleading and omitted relevant information. In Council’s opinion, a simple statement on the website home page prominently declaring that “all prices are in USD unless otherwise indicated” would eliminate possible confusion and contravention of the Code.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: « HomeAway.com, Inc. is a U.S.-based company providing a global online marketplace through which vacation-rental-owners in more than 190 countries can advertise their properties for rent to travelers. HomeAway network websites display pricing in local currency. Once a traveler initiates a request to book a property, pricing is also displayed in the currency selected by the property-owner/manager. In this case, the consumer chose to search a U.S.-based website, www.vrbo.com, rather than using its Canadian counterpart, www.homeaway.ca. The U.S. website displayed search results in U.S. dollars. When the consumer made a request to book a property located in Canada—for which the owner elected to be paid in Canadian dollars—the website also clearly displayed pricing in Canadian dollars. Moreover, the summary of charges included: “You will be paying in the property’s currency CAD (C$).” Information displayed to the consumer was and continues to be set forth clearly, accurately, and without ambiguity.”


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Koko Fit Club
Industry: Leisure Services-Entertainment, sports and leisure
Region: Alberta
Media: Digital - Other DMC
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A fitness club advertised that it was giving away 40 vouchers for a “6 Week Transformation Challenge for free.”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was misleading.
Decision: Throughout the Facebook advertisement the word “free” was used in connection with the advertised “6 Week Challenge”, e.g. “I’m looking for 40 ladies who are looking to transform their bodies and lives for 6 weeks for free.” The complainant alleged the offer did not disclose several important terms and conditions. Among them was the requirement that when signing up for the challenge, each participant must pay a $699 deposit, which was refundable only if the participant achieved a weight loss of 25 pounds or 6% body fat at the conclusion of the six-week challenge. Council agreed that this was essential information for prospective participants to know and understand upfront before registering for the challenge. However, because this was not disclosed in the Facebook advertisement, Council concluded that the advertisement was misleading, omitted relevant information, and failed to state all details of the offer.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a), (b) and (c).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 3: Price Claims

Advertiser: Northern Financial Group
Industry: Financial services
Region: Ontario
Media: Radio
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a radio advertisement, the advertiser promoted a $30/month employee Health Benefits Plan.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertisement was misleading because a stand-alone plan could not be purchased for $30/month. The advertised plan could only be purchased together with a $25/month plan.
Decision: Council found that a $30/month Health Benefit Plan as advertised in the radio commercial did not exist. The advertiser offered an Extended Health Care Options Plan for $25/month; but neither a $30/month Health Benefit Plan nor the $25/month plan was available for purchase on a stand-alone basis. Council, therefore, concluded that the advertisement contained misleading price claims.
Appeal: At an Appeal Hearing of Council requested by the advertiser, the Appeal Panel affirmed Council’s original decision.
Infraction: Clauses 1 (a) and 3 (a).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 5: Guarantees

Advertiser: Smart Gold Hamilton
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Ontario
Media: Digital - Marketer - Owned Websites
Complaint(s): 1
Description: On its website the advertiser offered a “Best Price Guarantee”. He also promised that if another gold dealer offered a customer more than Smart Gold Hamilton, the advertiser would better the other offer by 50% of the price difference.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertisement was misleading because the advertiser declined to honour its “Best Price Guarantee” when shown a better offer from another dealer for the complainant’s gold.
Decision: In his response to Council, the advertiser stated he amended his advertising by deleting the “Beat it by 50% of the Price Difference” claim on the website. However, he left the “Best Price Guarantee” claim intact. In Council’s judgment, the “Best Price Guarantee” claim was unexplained and unqualified both in the original and in the amended version of the advertisement. Council concluded, therefore, that the advertisement was misleading and remained misleading by omitting relevant information and by failing to state all details of the offer, and any conditions and limitations attached to the guarantee.
Infraction: Clauses 1 (a), (c) and 5.


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 8: Professional or Scientific Claims

Advertiser: SALT WAVE
Industry: Health and beauty services
Region: Ontario
Media: Brochures/leaflets/flyers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a brochure promoting its halotherapy treatment services, the advertiser claimed that halotherapy could provide relief from a number of chronic diseases, including asthma, bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, COPD, ADHD, and psoriasis.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the claims were false and unsupported by scientific evidence.
Decision: After reviewing the data provided by the advertiser, Council found that none of the studies was sufficiently robust to support the extensive list of clinical claims made in the advertising for halotherapy. When viewed in its entirety, the advertisement conveyed the impression to Council that after one 45- minute session, SALT WAVE customers would find relief from symptoms of any and all of the listed disease states. No reliable evidence was provided to support that impression. Council found, therefore, that the advertised claims for halotherapy were not supported by competent and reliable evidence and implied there was a scientific basis for the claims that the advertiser did not possess. Council also found that a disclaimer in the brochure stating that salt therapy is not an alternative therapy or treatment for any medical condition contradicted the main message of the advertisement.
Infraction: Clauses 1(d), (e) and 8.


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 8: Professional or Scientific Claims

Advertiser: The Save Movement
Industry: Non-commercial - Other
Region: Ontario
Media: Out-of-Home - Billboard, Poster, Transit
Complaint(s): 1
Description: Three transit advertisements entitled “Just Like Us” included photographs of chickens, cows and pigs being contained in deplorable conditions. The advertisements also described how animals such as these are mistreated by the meat and dairy industries.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that many of the statements in the advertisements were misleading, particularly regarding how the animals are mistreated by industry.
Decision: Council understood it was not uncommon that cows, pigs and chickens intended for human consumption are raised and held under distressing conditions. However, the language and graphic images employed in these advertisements conveyed to Council the general impression that animal cruelty and abuse not only exists, but is universally and without exception the practice within the Canadian meat and dairy industries. However, the advertiser provided no evidence to substantiate this overall impression. Council concluded, therefore, that the particularly broad, unqualified and unsupported claims made in the advertising were misleading.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a), (e) and 8.


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Lethbridge & District Pro-Life
Industry: Non-commercial - Other
Region: Alberta
Media: Out-of-Home - Billboard, Poster, Transit
Complaint(s): 76
Description: A transit advertisement consisted of an image of a well-developed and mature-looking foetus, together with the words ”Preborn Babies Feel Pain. Say No to Abortion”.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the advertisement was misleading and also demeaning to women.
Decision: To Council, the image clearly appeared to be representative of a foetus not in its early stages of development, but at a later stage of gestation when abortions are, typically, not performed. The impression conveyed to Council by the combination of the words and the image in this advertisement was that the image was representative of foetuses when they are aborted (an inaccurate and misleading representation), and that all foetuses at all stages of gestation will feel pain if the pregnancy is aborted. The preponderance of scientific evidence is to the contrary. It shows that foetuses don’t appear to feel pain until approximately 24 weeks. A number of the complainants also alleged that the advertisement demeaned women by implying that women who decide to terminate their pregnancy intentionally inflict pain on their unborn foetus. Council agreed with these complainants as well, concluding that the advertisement demeaned and disparaged women who have had or are considering having an abortion.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and 14(c).


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Harpseals.org
Industry: Non-commercial - Other
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 3
Description: The television commercial depicted harp seals being hunted by sealers in an advocacy advertisement.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the advertisement demeaned people who engage in seal hunting.
Decision: To Council, the scene that depicted sealers repeatedly stabbing a harp seal and the subsequent scene where a sealer paid for his drinks with a bloody five-dollar bill, conveyed the impression to Council that sealers are bloodthirsty people who have no regard for rules and requirements governing seal harvesting that are mandated by the federal government. Council, therefore, found that the depiction of the sealers in this commercial demeaned persons engaged in seal hunting.
Infraction: Clause 14(c).
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: The commercial shows an actual photo of a sealer striking a seal, followed by a dramatization of sealers skinning seals on the boat. After clubbing or shooting seals, sealers usually skin them on or near the boat. This was explained in our original response to complaints, but the council ignored this, saying that we show sealers “repeatedly stabbing what presumably is a harpseal.” Skinning is actually much bloodier than depicted. The sealers get paid next and then are in a bar where a bloody bill is used, showing that this is blood money. The bartender is shocked to see this. The commercial doesn’t indicate that sealers are bloodthirsty; on the contrary, it shows them as emotionless in their bloody work and motivated by money. It does not indicate that they have no regard for rules - all that is shown is legal - even though NGO’s have documented serious violations.


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Vancouver Home Solutions Ltd.
Industry: House maintenance services
Region: British Columbia
Media: Out-of-Home - Billboard, Poster, Transit
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertising on an outside wall of the advertiser’s office was comprised of four separate parts, each one featuring a different aspect of the advertiser’s services in constructing bathrooms, kitchens and glass railings. In three of the four parts of the advertisement there were no people shown or visible. However, the part that illustrated the “kitchen” prominently featured a woman against a brick wall in a kitchen.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the part of the advertising that showed a woman in a kitchen was sexist and demeaning to women.
Decision: Council agreed with the complainant that by featuring a woman alone in the kitchen, the advertising conveyed the impression that ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement was demeaning to women.
Infraction: Clause 14 (c).




Non-Identified Cases - January 1, 2018 - Oct 23, 2018
Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Online Daily Deal Company
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: National
Media: Direct Marketing - eMail, SMS, MMS
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A gift card worth five dollars when redeemed at a well-known coffee shop was advertised for three dollars.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertisement was misleading because the advertiser did not fulfil the gift card purchase order, as advertised.
Decision: Based on the uncontested facts with which the advertiser did not disagree, Council found that the advertisement was misleading. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaint.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Service Provider
Industry: Non-commercial - Other
Region: Ontario
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A service to homeowners was advertised as being available to the general public without charge.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was misleading because the service provided by the advertiser may be free to professionals in industry but not to homeowners without charge.
Decision: Contrary to the general impression conveyed to Council by this commercial, Council found that the so-called “free” service was not free to the public at large. Because the commercial did not make clear the circumstances under which the service was free, Council found that the commercial was misleading and omitted relevant information.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 2: Disguised Advertising Techniques

Advertiser: Automobile Dealer
Industry: Cars and motorized vehicles – General
Region: Alberta
Media: Direct Marketing - Post
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A direct mail advertisement came to the complainant inside an envelope on which the words “Urgent” and “Community Support Program” were prominently printed. The advertisement itself was in the form of a letter that read: “You have been selected for the [Dealer] Community Support Program”. The advertisement also stated that: “Through this program, [Dealer] is offering $16,000,000.00 to the community to help families like yours reduce the cost of getting a newer and more reliable vehicle.” Attached to the letter was a cheque in the amount of $1,073.83 signed by the dealer and payable to “Future Satisfied Customer.” When presented to the dealership, this cheque purportedly could be used towards the purchase of a new or used vehicle.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was disguised to appear as a fundraising campaign by a charitable organization.
Decision: The overall impression conveyed to Council was that the letter was an appeal for funds by a charitable organization. In fact, it was a commercial sales promotion. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement was misleading and was presented in a format or style that concealed its commercial intent. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaint.
Infraction: Clause 2.


Clause 10: Safety

Advertiser: Automobile Manufacturer
Industry: Cars and motorized vehicles – Safety
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A vehicle was shown successfully driving up what appeared to be a slippery and icy hill.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the driving depicted in the commercial showed a disregard for safety.
Decision: The complaint was originally adjudicated by the Standards Council, which did not find that the commercial contravened the Code. Upon an appeal requested by the complainant, the decision was reversed. The Appeal Panel took into account the very slippery conditions on a hill and the fact that, rather than slowing down, the driver appeared to swerve, without breaking, to avoid a tow truck. It was Council’s view that the driving scenes showed a disregard for safety by depicting a situation that might reasonably be interpreted as encouraging unsafe or dangerous practices or acts.
Infraction: Clause 10.