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 In this section, the advertising in question was not withdrawn or amended before Council met to deliberate on the complaint.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:

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Consumer Complaint Procedure

Identified Cases - January 1, 2019 - July 31, 2019

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Frank Leo & Associates
Industry: Real Estate Services
Region: Ontario
Media: Out-of-home
Complaint(s): 1
Description: An advertisement for a real estate broker contained a very large headline that read: “#1 in the World” An asterisked small print disclaimer at the bottom of the advertisement read: “#1 individual Re/max agent worldwide for dollar volume in 2017".
Complaint: The complainant alleged the #1 claim was misleading.
Decision: In its response to Council, the advertiser provided documentation to show that Frank Leo was ranked, by RE/MAX, as #1 in combined Residential and Commercial sales commissions in the RE/MAX network in 2017. In Council’s assessment, the claim conveyed the impression that Frank Leo was the #1 ranked broker in the entire world, bar none.  To Council, the small-type disclaimer was inconsistent with the much larger dominant, principal message found in the headline of the advertisement. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement contained a misleading claim, that the disclaimer contradicted the more prominent main message, and was not clearly legible.
Infraction: Clause 1(a) and (d).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Global Pet Foods
Industry: Retail
Region: Ontario
Media: Point-of Sale
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A 15% savings on an entire purchase was promoted in an in-store poster. An asterisked disclaimed below the saving claim read: “Certain restrictions apply. See Sales Associate for full details”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertisement was misleading because it failed to mention that the discount only applied to the purchase of one item.
Decision: In its response to Council, the advertiser directed Council to a pamphlet available in stores that detailed the restrictions, which included the limit of one bag, box or case of cans of pet food per month. However, Council found that not only did the one bag limit contradict the more prominent reference to “entire purchase” in the advertising, Council also found that all pertinent details of the offer were not clearly stated in the advertisement itself.
Infraction: Clause 1(c) and (d).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: HostPapa Inc.
Industry: Electronic
Region: National
Media: Advertiser’s Own Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A claim on the website of a webhosting service stated: “Unlimited bandwidth means you will never be charged extra fees for high bandwidth usage”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the claim was misleading.
Decision: Council understood that for reasons unknown to the complainant, he appeared to have unusually high bandwidth usage. After claiming to try, without success, to resolve the issue, the advertiser closed down the complainant’s website and recommended that he upgrade to a costlier service. In its response to Council, the advertiser pointed to a statement in the advertisement that read: “…like all hosting companies, we monitor our shared servers for excessive use and abuse to ensure optimal performance for everyone”. The advertiser also explained that monitoring and managing excessive bandwidth usage was necessary to ensure the health of the broader user community and was common practice in the industry. Council understood that on occasion it could become necessary for the advertiser to “manage excessive bandwidth usage”. However, Council found that the prominent, principal message in the advertisement, i.e. “unlimited bandwidth usage” meant that there was no limitation on usage when, in fact, there was. Council, therefore found that the advertisement contained a misleading claim.
Infraction: Clause 1(a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: RONA
Industry: Retail
Region: National
Media: Signage
Complaint(s): 2
Description: Large outdoor signs located on some RONA store buildings read “Truly Canadian” and “Proudly Canadian”.
Complaint: The complainants alleged the statement was inaccurate because Rona is not a Canadian company, its ownership having been acquired by Lowes, a US company.
Decision: In its response to Council, the advertiser explained and acknowledged that the ultimate owner of RONA, since 2016, is a non-Canadian entity, the US corporation Lowes Companies, Inc.  The advertiser also traced the Canadian roots of RONA, its many Canadian connections, and the number of high-level employees in RONA’s Canadian operations, who are Canadian. But it did not alter the fact that RONA is not owned and controlled by a “Truly Canadian” entity, notwithstanding the impression conveyed in the unqualified and unlimited representation in the advertising that RONA is Canadian owned and controlled. Council concluded, therefore, that the claim “Truly Canadian” conveyed an inaccurate general impression.
Infraction: Clause 1(a).
Appeal: At an Appeal Hearing of Council requested by the advertiser, the Appeal Panel affirmed Council’s original decision.
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: While RONA respects the Ad Standards process, it strongly disagrees with the Standards Council’s conclusion. RONA’s entire history is rooted in Canada, starting with its creation in 1939 by two Quebec entrepreneurs, Rolland and Napoleon. It is incorporated in Quebec under Quebec law. Its head office is located in Boucherville (Quebec), where strategic and operational decisions regarding the company’s activities are made by RONA’s executive team, which is composed exclusively of Canadians. All RONA employees are employed in Canada and, except for a single dealer-owned store located in St-Pierre et Miquelon, just off the coast of Newfoundland, all of RONA stores are located in Canada. RONA has deep connections to, and participates actively in, Canadian business and industry groups. Finally, RONA is an active Canadian corporate citizen, supporting over 260 local not-for-profit organizations and public schools across the country in communities where it is present.
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 4: Bait and Switch
Advertiser: Tarte Inc.
Industry: Retail
Region: National
Media: Digital
Complaint(s): 1
Description: An emailed advertisement visually featured a shape tape contour concealer (a cosmetic product). Immediately adjacent to the featured product, the advertiser offered a “10% off discount on purchases”. In a small print disclaimer on a different page of the advertisement, the same product was excluded from the sale.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertising was misleading.
Decision: The impression conveyed to Council by the advertisement was that it was the shape tape contour concealer that was offered for purchase at “10% off”. However, this impression was totally contradicted by the small print disclaimer located elsewhere in the advertisement. To Council, it was misleading under the Code to prominently feature a product in a sale advertisement that was, in fact, excluded from the sale. Council also found that the advertisement misrepresented the consumer’s opportunity to purchase the product at the terms presented in the advertisement.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a), (d) and 4.
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals
Advertiser: Kelowna Right to Life Society
Industry: Not-for profit Advocacy Organization
Region: British Columbia
Media: Out-of-home
Complaint(s): 10
Description: Two women were featured in a billboard advertisement. One women was obviously pregnant and the other woman was shown holding an infant. The caption read: “Our right to life does not depend on our location.”
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the advertisement was misleading and also demeaned women.
Decision: The impression conveyed to Council by the advertisement was that the pregnant woman featured in the billboard advertisement was in the very late stage of her pregnancy. The message conveyed to Council by the image was that women in this late stage of pregnancy routinely have, and exercise, the choice of aborting the foetus they carry.

However, according to statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information it is extremely rare that abortions are, or may be, performed in Canada at this late stage of pregnancy; and certainly not on demand by the pregnant mother. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement was misleading.

Additionally, Council concluded that by conveying a message that women routinely and freely choose to abort so close to the time of their delivery, the advertisement demeaned, denigrated and disparaged women who may have to consider abortion, as a viable option, including women who need to consider such a procedure for medical reasons on the recommendation of their medical advisors.

Appeal: At an Appeal Hearing requested by the advertiser, the Appeal Panel affirmed Council’s original decision.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and 14 (c).
Clause 3: Price Claims
Advertiser: Boss Leather Furniture
Industry: Retail
Region: Ontario
Media: Marketer’s Own Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: Advertising on the retailer’s website offered “50% off sofas, love seats, chairs, sectionals and custom orders”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertiser regularly advertised “50% off” sales on an ongoing and continuous basis.
Decision: Council noted at least five “50% off” advertisements by this advertiser on its website between September 22 and November 10, 2018. Each advertisement offered “50% off sofas, love seats, chairs, sectionals and custom orders”. Although each advertisement claimed that the advertised sale ended at the end of each sale week, the same sale was renewed again the following week, giving the impression that the same items were being advertised by the advertiser at a 50% discount each week.  The advertising did not specify whether the 50% discount applied to the advertiser’s regular prices, or referred to prices in the marketplace for similar items. Therefore, consumers would be unable to determine from the advertising whether the 50% discount was factual or exaggerated.

Council concluded that the advertising contained “deceptive price claims or discounts or exaggerated claims as to worth or value”, contrary to the Code.

Infraction: Clause 3(a).

Non-Identified Cases - January 1, 2019 - July 31, 2019

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Fitness Organization
Industry: Health Service Provider
Region: National
Media: Radio
Complaint(s): 4
Description: In a radio commercial the advertiser promoted a program that promised financial rewards to individuals if they achieved certain fitness goals they themselves set.
Complaint: The complainants alleged the advertising was misleading.
Decision: Council found the potential amount of the individual awards to be variable. Moreover, the commercial failed to include information about important pre-conditions that individuals had to meet before they could obtain any sum of money.  Council concluded, therefore, that the commercial was misleading and omitted important and relevant information about the program.

The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaints.

Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Food Company
Industry: Retail
Region: British Columbia
Media: Radio
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A radio commercial promoting one of the advertiser’s food products included statements regarding health benefits of the product.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the statements could not be substantiated and that the commercial was misleading.
Decision: In Council’s opinion, the general impression conveyed by the commercial was that eating the food product in question would lead to a healthier life than consuming other comparable products. However, no independent reliable evidence was provided to substantiate that impression. Council, therefore, found that the commercial was misleading and the claims communicated by advertising were not substantiated by competent and reliable evidence. Council appreciated that the advertiser did not intend to mislead with this commercial, and that it will submit any future advertising creative to Ad Standards for review, prior to publication/broadcast. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary due to the fact that the advertiser informed Ad Standards that the commercial ceased airing before Council met to adjudicate this case, and that it will not be aired again in future.
Infraction: Clause 1(a) and (e).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Retailer
Industry: Retail
Region: Ontario
Media: Flyer
Complaint(s): 1
Description: An advertisement for a snow blower contained the following claims: “Clean your driveway, paths, and sidewalk faster with fewer passes”; “Industry Leading Engine Size” and “designed by Canadians”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the claims could not be substantiated.
Decision: In its response to Council, the advertiser also submitted that the statement “clean your driveway, paths, and sidewalk faster with fewer passes” was intended to refer to using a snow blower versus other conventional snow removal methods, such as shovelling. As well, the advertiser explained that the two other claims (i.e. “industry Leading Engine Size” and “designed by Canadians”) were supposed to have been removed and/or amended prior to print, but were not, due to human error. Council found that the advertisement included misleading and unsubstantiated claims, conveying the impression that the advertised snow blower could perform better than snow blowers sold by the advertiser's competitors. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaint.
Infraction: Clause 1(a) and (e).

 

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Retailer
Industry: Retail
Region: National
Media: Advertiser’s Own Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The cover of a seasonal online flyer read: ”In Christmas. Decor & Entertaining. 3 Week Sale”, and included the dates of the sale in smaller type. The flyer primarily focused on a three-week pre-Christmas sale of items that were offered at a price discount. Included in the flyer were other items that were not on sale, but were included in the promotion at a price that was the advertiser’s everyday regular price.
Complaint: The item the complainant wanted to purchase was not on sale and the complainant alleged it should not have been included in a sale flyer.
Decision: Council concluded that if an advertiser chooses to include regular priced items that are offered at the ordinary, undiscounted price in a predominantly sale advertisement, it would be regarded as misleading if the price shown in the advertisement did not clearly state and communicate that the price is the advertiser’s ordinary, everyday, regular price of the featured item. In this case, because such clarity was not provided and communicated in this particular advertisement, 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: Clause 1(a).
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