The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards
Self-regulation of Advertising in Canada
- Political and Election Advertising
- Excluded Media
- Scope of the Code
- Interpretation Guidelines
- Code Provisions
- The Consumer Complaint Procedure
The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (“Code”) was developed to promote the professional practice of advertising, and was first published in 1963. It is reviewed and revised periodically to keep it contemporary. The Code is administered by Advertising Standards Canada (Ad Standards). Ad Standards is the industry body committed to creating and maintaining community confidence in advertising.
The Code sets the criteria for acceptable advertising and forms the basis upon which advertising is evaluated in response to consumer complaints and complaints between advertisers. It is widely endorsed by advertisers, advertising agencies, media that exhibit advertising, and suppliers to the advertising process. The Code is not intended to replace the many laws and guidelines designed to regulate advertising in Canada. Nor are the Code’s provisions intended to override any other aspect of Canada’s preclearance and regulatory apparatus. For information about Ad Standards’ preclearance services, click here.
Complaints to Ad Standards submitted by the public about advertising that allegedly does not comply with the Code are reviewed and adjudicated by one of two Councils: (1) the Standards Council, which includes representatives from Western Canada, Central Canada, and Atlantic Canada, or, (2) in Quebec, by le Conseil des normes. Councils are independent bodies of senior industry and public representatives that are supported and coordinated by, but altogether independent from, Ad Standards. Advertising complaints between advertisers, based on the Code, are administered under Ad Standards’ Advertising Dispute Procedure.
Note: Ad Standards discontinued the Special Interest Group Complaint Procedure in April 2019, in recognition of the sophistication of many public interest advocacy groups and marketing boards as advertisers in their own right. Where a complaint about an advertisement is submitted by, or on behalf of, an entity that represents one or more other individuals or entities, and that entity or its members are “advertisers” as defined under the Code, the complaint will be administered under Ad Standards’ Advertising Dispute Procedure. Complaints about an advertisement that are submitted by individuals, or a group of individuals, who are not “advertisers” will be administered under the Consumer Complaint Procedure.
For the purposes of the Code:
“Advertiser” is defined as an “entity” that engages in “advertising” and has, or shares with one or more other entities, the final authority over the content of “advertising” or an “advertisement”.
"Advertising" and "advertisement(s)" are defined as any message (other than those excluded from the application of this Code), the content of which message is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser expressed in any language and communicated in any medium (except those listed under Exclusions) to Canadians with the intent to influence their choice, opinion or behaviour.
“Entity” is a term that includes, but is not limited to, one or more brands, persons, companies, and organizations.
"Government advertising" 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".
"Political advertising" 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.
"Election advertising" includes "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.
“Material connection” is defined as any connection between an entity providing a product or service and an endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making a representation that may affect the weight or credibility of the representation, and includes: benefits and incentives, such as monetary or other compensation, free products with or without any conditions attached, discounts, gifts, contest and sweepstakes entries, and any employment relationship, but excludes nominal consideration for the legal right to identify publicly the person making the representation.
“Teaser Advertisement” is defined as an advertisement that generally reveals little about the product(s), service(s), event(s) or advertiser hinted at in the advertisement, the objective of which is to stimulate curiosity about and interest in the advertiser, product(s), service(s) or event(s).
The Code applies to "advertising" by (or for):
- advertisers promoting the use of goods and services;
- entities seeking to improve their public image or advance a point of view, whether or not the advertising is for a commercial purpose; and
- governments, government departments and crown corporations.
Canadians are entitled to expect that "political advertising" and "election advertising" will respect the standards articulated in the Code. However, it is not intended that the Code govern or restrict the free expression of public opinion or ideas through "political advertising" or "election advertising", which are excluded from the application of this Code.
Excluded from Definition of “Advertising” and “Advertisement(s)”
Excluded from the terms “advertising” and “advertisement(s)” (as defined in this Code) are messages from an “entity” that/who has no “material connection” with the entity that makes, distributes, markets or advertises the product or service featured in the advertising or advertisement(s).
The following media are excluded from the application of the Code:
- foreign media (namely media that originate outside Canada and contain the advertising in question) unless the advertiser is a Canadian person or entity; and
- packaging, wrappers and labels.
Scope of the Code
The authority of the Code applies only to the content of advertisements and does not prohibit the promotion of legal products or services or their portrayal in circumstances of normal use. The context and content of the advertisement and the audience actually, or likely to be, or intended to be, reached by the advertisement, and the medium/media used to deliver the advertisement, are relevant factors in assessing its conformity with the Code. In the matter of consumer complaints, Council will be encouraged to refer, when in its judgment it would be helpful and appropriate to do so, to the principles expressed in the Gender Portrayal Guidelines respecting the representations of women and men in advertisements.
The Code may be supplemented from time to time by Interpretation Guidelines that enhance industry and public understanding of the interpretation and application of the Code’s 14 clauses. The Interpretation Guidelines can be found here.
The Code is broadly supported by industry and is designed to help set and maintain standards of honesty, truth, accuracy, fairness and propriety in advertising.
The provisions of the Code should be adhered to both in letter and in spirit. Advertisers and their representatives must substantiate their advertised claims promptly when requested to do so by Council.
- Accuracy and Clarity
- Disguised Advertising Techniques
- Price Claims
- Bait and Switch
- Comparative Advertising
- Professional or Scientific Claims
- Superstition and Fears
- Advertising to Children
- Advertising to Minors
- Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals
In assessing the truthfulness and accuracy of a message, advertising claim or representation under Clause 1 of the Code the concern is not with the intent of the sender or precise legality of the presentation. Rather the focus is on the message, claim or representation as received or perceived, i.e. the general impression conveyed by the advertisement.
(a) Advertisements must not contain, or directly or by implication make, inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations.
(b) Advertisements must not omit relevant information if the omission results in an advertisement that is deceptive or misleading.
(c) All pertinent details of an advertisement must be clearly and understandably stated.
(d) Disclaimers and asterisked or footnoted information must not contradict more prominent aspects of the message and should be located and presented in such a manner as to be clearly legible and/or audible.
(e) All advertising claims and representations must be supported by competent and reliable evidence, which the advertiser will disclose to Ad Standards upon its request. If the support on which an advertised claim or representation depends is test or survey data, such data must be reasonably competent and reliable, reflecting accepted principles of research design and execution that characterize the current state of the art. At the same time, however, such research should be economically and technically feasible, with regard to the various costs of doing business.
(f) The advertiser must be clearly identified in the advertisement, excepting the advertiser of a “teaser advertisement” as that term is defined in the Code.
No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals the fact that it is an advertisement.
(a) No advertisement shall include deceptive price claims or discounts, unrealistic price comparisons or exaggerated claims as to worth or value. "Regular Price", "Suggested Retail Price", "Manufacturer’s List Price" and "Fair Market Value" are deceptive terms when used by an advertiser to indicate a savings, unless they represent prices at which, in the market place where the advertisement appears, the advertiser actually sold a substantial volume of the advertised product or service within a reasonable period of time (such as six months) immediately before or after making the representation in the advertisement; or offered the product or service for sale in good faith for a substantial period of time (such as six months) immediately before or after making the representation in the advertisement.
(b) Where price discounts are offered, qualifying statements such as "up to", "XX off", etc., must be in easily readable type, in close proximity to the prices quoted and, where practical, legitimate regular prices must be included.
(c) Prices quoted in advertisements in Canadian media, other than in Canadian funds, must be so identified.
Advertisements must not misrepresent the consumer’s opportunity to purchase the goods and services at the terms presented. If supply of the sale item is limited, or the seller can fulfill only limited demand, this must be clearly stated in the advertisement.
No advertisement shall offer a guarantee or warranty, unless the guarantee or warranty is fully explained as to conditions and limits and the name of the guarantor or warrantor is provided, or it is indicated where such information may be obtained.
Advertisements must not, unfairly, discredit, disparage or attack one or more products, services, advertisements, companies or entities, or exaggerate the nature or importance of competitive differences.
Testimonials, endorsements or other representations of opinion or preference, must reflect the genuine, reasonably current opinion of the individual(s), group or organization making such representations, and must be based upon adequate information about or experience with the identified product or service and must not otherwise be deceptive.
Advertisements must not distort the true meaning of statements made by professionals or scientific authorities. Advertising claims must not imply that they have a scientific basis that they do not truly possess. Any scientific, professional or authoritative claims or statements must be applicable to the Canadian context, unless otherwise clearly stated.
No advertiser shall imitate the copy, slogans or illustrations of another advertiser in such a manner as to mislead the consumer.
Advertisements must not without reason, justifiable on educational or social grounds, display a disregard for safety by depicting situations that might reasonably be interpreted as encouraging unsafe or dangerous practices, or acts.
Advertisements must not exploit superstitions or play upon fears to mislead the consumer.
Advertising that is directed to children must not exploit their credulity, lack of experience or their sense of loyalty, and must not present information or illustrations that might result in their physical, emotional or moral harm.
Child-directed advertising in the broadcast media is separately regulated by the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children, also administered by Ad Standards. Advertising to children in Quebec is prohibited by the Quebec Consumer Protection Act.
Products prohibited from sale to minors must not be advertised in such a way as to appeal particularly to persons under legal age, and people featured in advertisements for such products must be, and clearly seen to be, adults under the law.
It is recognized that advertisements may be distasteful without necessarily conflicting with the provisions of this Clause 14; and the fact that a particular product or service may be offensive to some people is not sufficient grounds for objecting to an advertisement for that product or service.
Advertisements shall not:
(a) condone any form of personal discrimination, including discrimination based upon race, national or ethnic origin, religion, gender identity, sex or sexual orientation, age or disability;
(b) appear in a realistic manner to exploit, condone or incite violence; nor appear to condone, or directly encourage, bullying; nor directly encourage, or exhibit obvious indifference to, unlawful behaviour;
(c) demean, denigrate or disparage one or more identifiable persons, group of persons, firms, organizations, industrial or commercial activities, professions, entities, products or services, or attempt to bring it or them into public contempt or ridicule;
(d) undermine human dignity; or display obvious indifference to, or encourage, gratuitously and without merit, conduct or attitudes that offend the standards of public decency prevailing among a significant segment of the population.
The Consumer Complaint Procedure
Revised: July 2019