Interpreting the Code
Ad Standards develops Interpretation Guidelines to enhance industry and public understanding of the interpretation and application of the clauses of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
In assessing impression(s) likely to be conveyed by an advertisement, Council shall take into consideration the use and application in the advertisement(s) of such elements as humour and fantasy.
2.1 As used in Clause 12 of the Code, the phrase "advertising that is directed to children", (advertising to children), includes a commercial message on behalf of a product or service for which children are the only users or form a substantial part of the market as users, and the message (i.e. language, selling points, visuals) is presented in a manner that is directed primarily to children under the age of 12.
2.2 Advertising to children that appears in any medium (other than the media specifically excluded under the Code from the definition "medium" and from the application of the Code) shall be deemed to violate Clause 12 of the Code if the advertising does not comply with any of the following principles or practices:
a. Food Product Advertising to Children1
i. Food product advertising addressed to children must not be inconsistent with the pertinent provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Food Labelling for Industry (CFIA Industry Labelling Tool). This Code Interpretation Guideline is intended, among other purposes, to ensure that advertisements representing mealtime clearly and adequately depict the role of the advertised product within the framework of a balanced diet, and that snack foods are clearly presented as such, not as substitutes for meals.
b. Healthy, Active Living3
i. Advertising to children for a product or service should encourage responsible use of the advertised product or service with a view toward the healthy development of the child.
ii. Advertising of food products should not discourage or disparage healthy lifestyle choices or the consumption of fruits or vegetables, or other foods recommended for increased consumption in Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, and in Health Canada’s nutrition policies and recommendations applicable to children under 12.
c. Excessive Consumption3
i. The amount of product featured in food advertising to children should not be excessive or more than would be reasonable to acquire, use or, where applicable, consume, by a person in the situation depicted.
ii. If an advertisement depicts food being consumed by a person in the advertisement, or suggests that the food will be consumed, the quantity of food shown should not exceed the labelled serving size on the Nutrition Facts Panel (where no such serving size is applicable, the quantity of food shown should not exceed a single serving size that would be appropriate for consumption by a person of the age depicted).
d. Factual Presentation3
i. Audio or visual presentations must not exaggerate service, product or premium characteristics, such as performance, speed, size, colour, durability, etc.
ii. Advertising to children must not misrepresent the size of the product.
iii. When showing results from a drawing, construction, craft or modelling toy or kit, the results should be reasonably attainable by an average child.
iv. The words "new", "introducing" and "introduces" or similar words may be used in the same context in any children's advertising for a period of up to one year only.
e. Product Prohibitions3
i. Products not intended for use by children may not be advertised either directly or through promotions that are primarily child-oriented.
ii. Drug products, including vitamins, may not be advertised to children, with the exception of children's fluoride toothpastes.
f. Avoiding Undue Pressure3
i. Children must not be directly urged to purchase or to ask their parents to make inquiries or purchases.
g. Price and Purchase Terms3
i. Price and purchase terms, when used in advertising directed to children, must be clear and complete. When parts or accessories that a child might reasonably suppose to be part of the normal purchase are available only at extra cost, this must be clearly communicated.
ii. The costs of goods, articles or services in advertising directed to children must not be minimized, as by the use of "only", "just", "bargain price," "lowest price(s)," etc.
iii. The statement "it has to be put together" or a similar phrase in language easily understood by children must be included when it might normally be assumed that an article featured in advertising directed to children would be delivered assembled.
iv. When more than one product is featured in advertising directed to children, it must be made clear in the advertising which of the products are sold separately (this includes accessories).
h. Comparison Claims3
i. In advertising to children, no comparison may be made with a competitor's product or service when the effect is to diminish the value of other products or services.
i. Adults or children must not be portrayed in clearly unsafe acts or situations except where the message primarily and obviously promotes safety.
ii. Products must not be shown being used in an unsafe or dangerous manner (e.g. tossing a food item into the air and attempting to catch it in the mouth).
j. Social Values3
i. A range of values that are inconsistent with the moral, ethical or legal standards of contemporary Canadian society must not be encouraged or portrayed.
ii. Advertising to children must not imply that, without the advertised product, a child will be open to ridicule or contempt; or that possession or use of a product makes the owner superior (this latter prohibition does not apply to true statements regarding educational or health benefits).
i. Advertising to children must:
- use age-appropriate language that is easily understandable by children of the age to whom the advertisement is directed;
- refrain from using content that might result in harm to children;
- collect only the information reasonably required to allow children to engage in the activity, e.g. collect only the minimal amount of personal information sufficient to determine the winner(s) in contests, games or sweepstakes-type of advertising to children;
- limit the advertiser’s right to deal with anyone other than the parents or guardians of children who win a contest, game or sweepstakes promotion;
- require children to obtain their parent’s and/or guardian’s permission before they provide any information; and make reasonable efforts to ensure that parental consent is given;
- refrain from using the data collected from children to advertise and promote products or services other than those designed for/appropriate for children;
- not attempt to collect from children data related to the financial situation or the privacy of any member of the family. Furthermore, advertisers must not, and must not ask for permission to, disclose personal information that may identify children to third parties without obtaining prior consent from parents, unless authorized by law. For this purpose, third parties do not include agents or others who provide support for operational purposes of a website and who do not use or disclose a child’s personal information for any other purpose.
i. Each advertisement shall be judged on its individual merit.
1: April 2004
2: April 2006
3: September 2007
When evaluating complaints involving environmental claims that allegedly are misleading or deceptive, Standards Council may, in exercising its judgment, take into account the guidance of the Competition Bureau (available here) and, where relevant, the ICC Framework for Responsible Environmental Marketing Communications (November 2021).
Historically, Standards Council has also referred to the Canadian Standards Association Special Publication PLUS 14021, Environmental claims: A guide for industry and advertisers. This may continue to be a reference for Standards Council in the case of advertising in market prior to this update to Interpretation Guideline #3.
4.1 When evaluating complaints about advertising involving depictions of motorized vehicles that allegedly contravene Clause 10 (Safety), Council will take into account the following questions:
a. Does the depiction of the performance, power or acceleration of the vehicle convey the impression that it is acceptable to exceed speed limits?
b. Does the depiction of a vehicle’s handling ability involve potentially unsafe actions such as cutting in and out of traffic, excessively aggressive driving, or car chases in a residential setting?
c. Does the depiction appear realistic or does it appear to be unreal, as in a fantasy-like scenario that is unlikely to be copied or emulated in real life?
d. Would it be reasonable to interpret the depicted situation as condoning or encouraging unsafe driving practices?
4.2 When evaluating complaints involving depictions in automobile advertising that allegedly contravene Clause 10 (Safety) or Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals), Council also will take into account the following questions developed and endorsed by the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association and Global Automakers of Canada:
a. Is the vehicle operated in violation of applicable laws or beyond reasonable speed under the circumstances taking into account the portrayed road, weather, traffic and surrounding conditions (e.g. children in the area,) or over usual speed limits in Canada?
b. Does the depiction of the performance, power or acceleration and braking of the vehicle, taking into consideration the advertisement as a whole including visual (both images and text) and audio messages convey the impression that it is acceptable to exceed speed limits or to otherwise operate a vehicle unsafely or illegally?
c. Does the depiction of racing and rallies, and of other competition environments, taking into consideration the advertisement as a whole including visual (both images and text) and audio messages, convey the impression that production vehicles could be driven like racing or competition vehicles on a public roadway?
d. Is the advertisement encouraging or endorsing vehicle use that is aggressive, violent or injurious toward other road users, or that denigrates or disparages cautious behaviour when using a vehicle?
The following provides guidance on disclosure that is required in order for a testimonial, endorsement, review, or other representation (in any medium) to comply with Clause 7 of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code).
A testimonial, endorsement, review, or other representation must disclose any "material connection" (as defined in the Code) between the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation and the "entity" (as defined in the Code) that makes the product or service available to the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation.
If such a material connection exists, that fact and the nature of the material connection must be clearly and prominently disclosed in close proximity to the representation about the product or service. Failure to make adequate disclosure of the material connection may also result in violations of Clause 1(b), Clause 1(f), or Clause 2 of the Code, depending on the general impression created by the advertisement and/or the omission.
There may be instances in which failure to disclose is not “otherwise misleading”, as specified in Clause 7. In some situations, consumers could reasonably expect a material connection to exist without requiring additional disclosure. For example, a television ad where the celebrity talks about a product or service, or a billboard featuring a famous model to advertise clothing, may be exceptions where additional disclosure is not required. As always, however, each execution will be reviewed by a Standards Council (“Council”) on a case-by-case basis.
When evaluating complaints about influencer marketing, Council may take into consideration the Influencer Marketing Disclosure Guidelines. Note, however, that the requirements in Clause 7 do not apply only to influencers. For example, if employees post about their employer’s brand, then the fact that they are employees is a relevant material connection which should be disclosed. A family relationship is also a material connection that may affect the weight or credibility of the representation made by one family member about another family member’s brand or employer. Similarly, affiliate marketing and refer-a-friend programs may also trigger disclosure requirements where the individual is receiving compensation or other benefits for making the referral.
Other resources on the topic of testimonials, reviews, and influencer marketing can be found at the Competition Bureau’s Deceptive Marketing Practices Digest – Volume 4 and on its website (https://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/04512.html).
Updated: October 2020
The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code) states that “political advertising” and “election advertising” are both excluded from its application. Although these terms are both defined in the Code, this Interpretation Guideline is intended to help clarify the distinction between “government advertising” vs. “political advertising” vs. “election advertising”.
When assessing whether a given advertisement is captured or excluded from the scope of the Code, the following interpretation of the definitions will apply:
A. “Government advertising”
The Code applies to “government advertising”, which is defined as “‘advertising’ by any part of local, provincial or federal governments, or concerning policies, practices or programs of such governments, as distinct from ‘political advertising’ and ‘election advertising.’”
Ad Standards’ Interpretation:
“Advertiser”: Any level of government, or any government department, government agency or crown corporation.
Scope: Messages about policies, practices or programs of such (i.e. that same) government.
If Ad Standards determines that an advertisement, or any part of an advertisement, is “government advertising”, based on the above criteria then the analysis stops here. The entire advertisement is “government advertising”.
The Code provides that government advertising is distinct from “political advertising”, and so a given advertisement cannot fall into both categories. Where a government, a government department, government agency or crown corporation, is the advertiser, and the message relates in whole or in part to its own policies, practices or programs, the advertisement falls within the scope of the Code.
Types of advertising that would be within this definition, and are therefore captured under the Code, include:
- A government advertising about its policies, practices or programs.
- A government comparing its policies, practices or programs, to those of another government.
- Advertisement by a crown corporation about its policies or services.
Types of advertising that would not be within this definition, and therefore are excluded from the scope of the Code include:
- One government advertising exclusively about the policies of another government.
B. “Political advertising”
The Code does not apply to political advertising, which is defined as “‘advertising’ appearing at any time regarding a political figure, a political party, a government or political policy or issue publicly recognized to exist in Canada or elsewhere, or an electoral candidate.”
Ad Standards’ Interpretation:
“Advertiser”: Any entity.
Scope: Messages about a government, political party or candidate; or messages about a policy or issue that is the subject of debate at any level of government.
Types of advertising that would be within this definition, and therefore are excluded from the scope of the Code, include:
- Advertising by any entity about any person or party running for election.
- Advertising by any political party or candidate about its platform.
- One elected government advertising exclusively about the policies of another elected government.
- Advertising by any party other than government about issues that, at the time of the advertisement, are the active subject of debate at any level of government in the jurisdiction where the ad is running.
For greater certainty, an issue may be the subject of political debate in one jurisdiction (e.g. one province, territory or municipality) and yet not be a political in another jurisdiction. An ad may therefore fall under the definition of political advertising and outside of the scope of the Code in one context, and yet be subject to the Code in another context, i.e. in a different jurisdiction or at another time.
C. “Election advertising”
The Code also does not apply to “election advertising”, which is defined as “‘advertising’ about any matter before the electorate for a referendum, ‘government advertising’ and ‘political advertising’, any of which advertising is communicated to the public within a time-frame that starts the day after a vote is called and ends the day after the vote is held. In this definition, a ‘vote’ is deemed to have been called when the applicable writ is issued.”
Ad Standards' Interpretation:
Advertiser: Any entity.
Scope: Subset of political advertising, but running during an election campaign. This applies to elections at any level of government, and includes by-elections. If the issue is a “political” issue, before or during the campaign, it is excluded from the application of the Code.
D. Other Issue or Advocacy Advertising
Advertising may present information or a point of view about a controversial issue, and yet not meet the Code’s definition of political advertising. Examples of advertising that generally would not be within the definition of political advertising, and are therefore likely to be captured under the Code include, but are not limited to, advertising about subjects such as:
- Pro-life/pro-choice advertising.
- Animal rights advocacy.
- Climate change advertising (a message for or against the fact of climate change, as distinct from an ad about a specific program to combat climate change).
- Opinion or advocacy advertising based on issues of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.
- Matters of public health (e.g. pro- or anti- vaccination, face mask, or other public health measures).
It is important to note that when advocacy or other issue advertising is considered under the Code, Standards Councils and Appeal Panels are instructed not to evaluate the advertising based on their personal views of the subject. The Code does not prohibit or restrict any particular position or argument, provided that in communicating its message the ad complies with the standards of truthful, fair, and accurate advertising prescribed under the Code.
A note about advertising during an election:
Government and departmental communications of the federal government in power are limited during the election period, except for public notices, matters of public health and safety, and employment /staffing notices. Such advertising (if and when it occurs) would be considered “government advertising”, and would be captured by the Code and by Ad Standards’ mandate for non-partisan government advertising review. See: https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/publications/guidelines-conduct-ministers-state-exempt-staff-public-servants-election.html#IV.
Although “political advertising” and “election advertising” are excluded from the application of the Code, all those engaged in such advertising should review Ad Standards Advisory Regarding Political and Election Advertising at: https://adstandards.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Advisory-July-2019.pdf
Updated: October 2020
The Stereotyping Guidelines were originally developed by the CRTC Task Force in Sex-role Stereotyping in the Broadcast Media in 1981. Renamed and last updated in 1993, the Gender Portrayal Guidelines were a helpful resource at the time to Standards Council in adjudicating complaints under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, and especially complaints related to the portrayal of women and men in advertising in all media under Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals).
Ad Standards archived this document in June 2021. Recognizing that its approach to gender identity and dynamics are not fully reflective of the present day, the Gender Portrayal Guidelines are no longer used by Standards Council as binding guidance in its decisions. The principles of Clause 14 of the Code remain in place unchanged: prohibiting depictions that condone discrimination based on gender identity, sex or sexual orientation, and any depictions that demean, denigrate or disparage any individual or group of persons, or undermine human dignity.
Since the themes identified in the document may still help advertisers to identify potential issues applicable to gender portrayal in advertising, the Gender Portrayal Guidelines are archived and not withdrawn at this time.
1. Caution should be taken to ensure that the overall impression of an ad does not violate the spirit of gender equality even though the individual elements of the ad may not violate any particular guideline.
2. While the Guidelines pertain to both women and men, some clauses are particularly directed to the portrayal of women. Men and women are not at equal risk of being negatively portrayed and these Guidelines recognize that fact.
3. Humour, works of art and historical settings can all be positive elements in advertising. However, these techniques should not serve as an excuse to stereotype women or men or to portray behaviour which is not acceptable today.
4. The Standards Councils may consider the nature of the media used when assessments are made. Sensitivity should be demonstrated in choosing media vehicles for certain product categories, such as intimate or personal products.
Gender Portrayal Guidelines
Advertising should strive to provide an equal representation of women and men in roles of authority both for the characters within the actual advertising scenario and when representing the advertiser through announcers, voice-overs, experts and on-camera authorities.
Women and men should be portrayed equally as single decision-makers for all purchases including big-ticket items. Where joint decision-making is reflected, men and women should be portrayed as equal participants in the decision-making process whether in the workplace or at home.
Advertising should avoid the inappropriate use or exploitation of sexuality of both women and men.
Neither sex should be portrayed as exerting domination over the other by means of overt or implied threats, or actual force.
Advertising should portray both women and men in the full spectrum of diversity and as equally competent in a wide range of activities both inside and outside the home.
Advertising should avoid language that misrepresents, offends or excludes women or men.