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 In this section, the advertising in question was not withdrawn or amended before Council met to deliberate on the complaint.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 to July 31, 2020

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Collabria Financial Services – Cash Back Credit Card (MasterCard)
Industry: Financial service
Region: National
Media: Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s website stated, “Collect valuable rewards you can redeem the way you want” and there were four different options underneath that statement for how to redeem the points consumers could collect with the credit card advertised. Each of the four options was advertised with an illustration and copy. One of the options was cash back, with the copy, “Easily redeem your credit card points to get cash back” and the illustration was a hand holding paper money.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the cash back option for redeeming points as promoted on the website was misleading, since the terms and conditions for the credit card stated in section 14 that “Points are not transferable and are not redeemable for cash.”
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that its advertising of “cash back” is aligned with other credit card issuers in the Canadian marketplace.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s response, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions under Clause 1, Accuracy and Clarity, in the Code. In assessing the truthfulness and accuracy of an advertising claim or representation under this Clause, the focus is on the claim or representation as received or perceived, i.e. the general impression conveyed by the advertisement.

A majority of Council members were of the view that the general impression conveyed by the term “cash back” is that consumers would get money back for redeeming points. An informal review of similar programs in the market suggested that some cash back programs offer credit, but others do provide for cash (or cheques) back to the consumer. In this advertisement, the literal meaning of cash was strengthened by the image of cash in a hand. Because consumers cannot in fact get cash back for their points, the term “cash back”, combined with the clear imagery of cash in hand, together created a general impression that was inaccurate and misleading.

For the reasons above, the Council unanimously found the advertisement to be misleading in contravention of Clause 1(a). In addition, a majority of Council also found that the advertisement violated Clause 1(c) of the Code, since not all details of the cash back offer (in particular, that the offer related to account credit and not to cash) were clearly stated in the body of the advertisement itself. The Terms and Conditions were clear, but the advertisement was not, that the cash referred to a credit to the cardholders account, rather than a payment to the cardholder.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (a) and (c).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Goodfood
Industry: Retail
Region: National
Media: Facebook
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The Facebook advertisement stated “5 free meals in your 1st basket!” and featured images of 5 different plates with different types of prepared food on each.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertiser was offering portions of meals, rather than full meals, which was misleading.
Advertiser Response: Although Ad Standards and the advertiser were in communication about this complaint, the advertiser did not submit a response addressing the merits of the advertisement.
Decision: Council considered the term “meals” and the general impression conveyed by the advertisement as a whole. The majority of Council members determined that the advertisement’s message was confusing, as it was unclear whether the advertiser was offering 5 full free meals, or just 5 free servings. Due to the lack of further information to clarify the offer, the majority of Council found that the advertisement did not clearly state all pertinent details of the offer, in contravention of Clause 1(c) of the Code.

A minority of Council members understood the offer to mean 5 free meal servings, given the additional text that read “in your 1st basket” and the images of individual plated servings. These Council members did not find a violation of Clause 1(c) of the Code, however, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clause 1 (c).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Healthy Planet
Industry: Health – Natural Health Product
Region: Ontario
Media: Newspaper
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The newspaper advertisement stated “Make your own Hand Sanitizer” and featured a sequence of images of products sold by the advertiser with a recipe to use them to make “hand sanitizer”.
Complaint: The complainant questioned the effectiveness of this do-it-yourself hand sanitizer and felt this advertisement was potentially misleading.
Advertiser Response: Although Ad Standards requested a response from the advertiser, there was no response sent to the Council.
Decision: The context and content of the advertisement, and the audience likely to be reached, are relevant factors in any adjudication under the Code. In this case, it was relevant to Council that the advertisement was published near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand was extremely high for hand sanitizers to the point of product shortages. Council also took into account that ‘hand sanitizer’ typically describes a product that is authorized for sale by Health Canada, and therefore the safety and efficacy of the product is under additional regulatory scrutiny.

The Council acknowledged that the advertisement was not promoting a finished and regulated product, but a DIY version. However, the Council felt that the general impression conveyed by the advertisement was that if these ingredients were combined and put in a bottle, the end result would be an effective hand sanitizer – at least as effective as those products that are authorized for sale by Health Canada as hand sanitizer. Based on the component ingredients, Council had reason to doubt the efficacy of the resulting liquid as a hand sanitizer, and in particular its effectiveness in the context of COVID-19 was questioned.

A majority of Council therefore determined the advertisement to be inaccurate and misleading in contravention of Clause 1(a) of the Code.

In addition, a majority of Council also found that the advertisement violated Clause 1(b) and (c) of the Code, since the advertisement omitted relevant information, such as the actual percentage of alcohol in the resulting mixture, which might have otherwise helped consumers assess the effectiveness of the recipe for themselves for their intended purposes.

A minority of Council members were of the view that there was no express claim made about the efficacy of the product in the advertisement, so there was no violation of Clause 1(a) of the Code. However, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (a), (b) and (c).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Telus
Industry: Telecommunication – Phone service
Region: Quebec
Media: Newspaper
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The full-page advertisement stated in large font, “Canadians spend less on wireless than Americans.” Beneath that, in smaller font, the advertisement further claimed, “It’s a myth that Canadians pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world. The average Canadian household spends just 1.6% of their disposable income on wireless versus 2.6% in the US. – PWC Canada.”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement is misleading, that it is not a myth that Canadians pay some of the highest wireless prices in the world, since affordability is not the same as pricing. The complainant referred to a publicly available article showing that prices in Canada were either the highest or second-highest among the reviewed countries.
Advertiser Response: Although Ad Standards requested a response from the advertiser, there was no response sent to the Council.
Decision: Council considered each of the 3 sentences in the advertisement to determine whether the general impression conveyed was misleading. While there was no material submitted by the advertiser to Council to substantiate its claims, Council reviewed the study cited as support in the advertisement.

Council determined that the two claims about spending – that Canadians spend less on wireless than Americans, and that the average Canadian household spends a smaller percentage of their disposable income on wireless versus in the U.S. – were supportable by the cited study. Council was satisfied that these claims were accurate and truthful.

However, there was no support in the cited study for the claim that it is a myth Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the world for wireless. The study discussed affordability, rather than prices, and it only addressed 4 countries in total, rather than most, or all, countries in the world. Council determined that if Canadians are spending a smaller percentage of disposable income on wireless than Americans, it does not necessarily follow that the prices for wireless are lower in Canada than they are in the U.S. In Council’s view, the advertisement incorrectly conflatedaffordability and pricing, and in assessing the truthfulness and accuracy of the advertisement, this claim strongly impacted the general impression conveyed.

For the reasons above, Council was unanimous in its decision that the advertisement contained misleading claims in contravention of Clause 1(a) of the Code.

Infraction: Clause 1 (a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Vacation VIP
Industry: Leisure service
Region: Ontario
Media: Instagram
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertisement promoted a two-night getaway with additional dining and spa passes, in Collingwood Ontario at a set cost per couple. The advertisement included a phone number and the statement “Call for Details”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that, upon calling to inquire about the promotion, the advertiser advised that certain terms and conditions must be met to qualify for the promotion. The complainant also alleged that these further conditions were not made clear in the advertisement itself.
Advertiser Response:

In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that consumers are presented with the details of participation and the Terms & Conditions of the offer during the online purchase process. Consumers must check a box and agree to these terms before proceeding with the purchase. The advertiser also provided Ad Standards with a link used to direct consumers to its Terms & Conditions webpage.

The advertiser submitted that in this instance, the complainant’s issue was either due to a technical error, or the consumer did not click on the link provided to see the details of participation and the Terms & Conditions.

Decision:

Council considered the advertisement and a majority of Council members found the inclusion of “Call for Details” to be insufficient to alert consumers that there were extensive Terms & Conditions attached to the offer. When Council sought out the Terms & Conditions webpage, it was difficult to find.

On this basis, a majority of Council members determined that because the Terms & Conditions were extensive, and they were not adequately referenced in the advertisement itself, the advertiser omitted relevant information that resulted in the advertisement being misleading. The advertisement therefore contravened Clause 1 (b) of the Code.

A minority of Council members recognized that the advertiser made two efforts to disclose the details of the offer, both in the “Call for Details” copy in the advertisement itself, and the inclusion of the Terms & Conditions located further in the purchase process. This language was not sufficient to the majority of Council.

Infraction: Clause 1 (b).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Virgin Mobile
Industry: Telecommunication – Phone service
Region: National
Media: Digital – Display ad
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertisement, which appeared in a Google search, stated “Get a Min $300 Trade-In Credit” at the beginning of the advertisement and promoted a “Special Offer Available on Select 2yr Plans and In-Store Only.”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that upon going to the advertiser’s store to receive the trade-in credit as advertised, the sales representative informed the complainant that the promotion was for up to $300 in trade-in credit, rather than a minimum of $300.
Advertiser Response: Although Ad Standards and the advertiser were in communication about this complaint, and Ad Standards requested a response from the advertiser for Council on the merits of the complaint, Ad Standards received no such response from the advertiser.
Decision: Council considered the complaint together with the advertisement under Clause 1, Accuracy and Clarity, in the Code.

Council was unanimous that the language “Get a Min $300 Trade-In Credit” means that consumers would receive a minimum (i.e. at least) $300 credit towards their next purchase for a trade-in. Because the advertiser chose not to provide Council with a response, Council only had the word of the complainant to assess whether there was an error in the advertisement, or an error on the part of the salesperson at the time the offer was fulfilled. Since the complainant was told the promotion was for up to $300, as opposed to a minimum of $300, the advertisement was incorrect.

On this basis, Council unanimously found the advertisement to be misleading in contravention of Clause 1(a). In addition, a majority of Council found that the advertisement violated Clause 1(b) of the Code, since the advertiser omitted relevant information, such as limitations to the offer or terms and conditions that may apply.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (a) and (b).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 3: Price Claims
Advertiser: Canada Computers and Electronics
Industry: Electronic Good
Region: National
Media: Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s website displayed a price crossed out, and promised a new low price on an item, which would be displayed only after it was placed in a registered shopper’s online cart.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that after following the steps of placing the item in the shopping cart, the price reduction on the item was only 32 cents.
Advertiser Response: Although Ad Standards requested a response from the advertiser, there was no response sent to the Council.
Decision: The majority of Council members were of the view that it was misleading to promote a substantial discount on an item when, in fact, the discount was only 32 cents off the displayed price of over $85. The advertisement created an expectation that the discount would be significant. Further, the complainant could only know the amount of the discount after going through all the steps to put the item in the cart and log in to the website. For these reasons, the majority of Council members found that the general impression conveyed by the advertisement about a large discount was misleading and in contravention of clause 1(a) the Code.

The majority of Council members were also of the view that this advertisement included deceptive discounts or exaggerated claims as to worth or value in contravention of Clause 3 (a).

A minority of Council members were of the view that the pricing listed reflect a likely technical error and was therefore not misleading under Clauses 1(a) or 3(a) of the Code. However, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (a) and 3 (a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 3: Price Claims
Advertiser: Flowershopping.com
Industry: Retailer
Region: New Brunswick
Media: Online Advertisement
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertisement, which appeared in a Google search, stated “Shop Local!” at the beginning of the advertisement and promoted the advertiser as “Family Owned/Operated”. The advertiser offered same day delivery of its flowers.
Complaint: The complainant purchased flowers from the advertiser for $42.26 and they were delivered the same day, as expected, for a total price of $63.16, which included handling and delivery. When the complainant received the charges, the total was higher than allegedly expected at $85.81, as it was converted from the US dollar (USD) price shown on the order on the website to Canadian dollars (CAD). The complainant alleged it was not clear from the website and the purchase process that the pricing was presented in USD. The complainant further alleged that it was not possible to give the company less than a 4.5 star rating on the advertiser’s website.
Advertiser Response: Although Ad Standards requested a response from the advertiser, there was no response sent to the Council.
Decision: Council noted the advertisement in the Google search, where the advertiser emphasized being a local company and family owned and operated. In the view of Council, this gave the impression that the advertiser was a small, local, mom and pop shop when, in fact, it is a US-based company. The general impression conveyed by the advertisement was therefore misleading and a contravention of 1(a) and (b) of the Code.

Further, because of the emphasis in the advertisement that the company was local and family-owned, the impression given was that the currency of the prices presented would be in Canadian dollars. Council was able to find the information about the USD pricing on the advertiser’s website, but it was difficult to see and not in close proximity to the price lists that appear in the purchasing and order process. From information available to Council, it appeared as though the currency was not identified even after a consumer identified New Brunswick as their applicable jurisdiction in the ordering process.

In the view of Council, the pricing provided was in funds other than Canadian dollars, and was not identified as being in USD, as required by the Code. On this basis, Council unanimously found that by omitting to identify the currency in a manner that was clear to consumers where the prices were listed, the advertisement contravened Clause 3 (c) of the Code.

A minority of Council members found that it was not misleading under Clause 1 to have a US-based company advertise as local if it was using local florists for assembly and delivery. However, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clause 1 (a) and (b), and 3 (c).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 4: Bait and Switch
Advertiser: Memory Express
Industry: Retail
Region: Quebec
Media: Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s website featured many of its products on sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that when trying to purchase the items at the start of the Cyber Monday sale, the items were already out of stock and not available for purchase.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser confirmed that it ran a Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale. The advertiser submitted that when it holds a sale, there is limited stock available and items tend to run out. The advertiser further submitted that it had not heard from the complainant about this issue.
Decision: Council considered the complaint and the advertiser’s submissions. In Council’s view, the fact that the website advertisement remained the same on Cyber Monday as it had been on Black Friday conveyed the general impression that all products were still available and on sale.

Council appreciated that inventory can quickly go out of stock during sales and considered whether the advertiser could have updated the advertisement for Cyber Monday to better reflect the inventory still available. Even if it was not possible for the advertisement to be updated in time for Cyber Monday, Council noted that there was no disclaimer indicating that limited quantities were available, or that the sale only applied while quantities lasted. As stated in Clause 4 of the Code, Bait and Switch, “If supply of the sale item is limited, or the seller can fulfill only limited demand, this must be clearly stated in the advertisement.”

As such, the majority of Council found that the omission meant that the advertisement was misleading and misrepresented the consumer’s opportunity to purchase the items at the terms presented, each in contravention of the Code.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (b) and Clause 4.
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 11: Superstitions and Fears
Advertiser: Grain Farmers of Ontario
Industry: Other
Region: Ontario
Media: Television
Complaint(s): 2
Description: The commercial included a series of scenes depicting farms and farmers under stress, food supply shortages, empty grocery store shelves, and statements such as “the food supply chain is breaking” and “when the farms and farmers are gone, where are we going to get our food from?” The commercial aired during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the advertisement was designed to spread fear about the state of the food supply chain by making statements that were not truthful.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the commercial represented its story of the issues facing grain farming in Ontario. Further, according to the advertiser, the ad reflected its position to the public and government of a need to improve the supply chain, for support for the sector, and the inability of Canadian farmers to compete with farmers from the United States. The advertiser further submitted evidence to support the claims made in the advertisement.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s thorough response and comprehensive evidence. When reviewing the advertisement, Council took into consideration the context in which the commercial aired, which was a global pandemic due to COVID-19. Council did not find the evidence submitted by the advertiser to be persuasive. According to Council, while the images of empty grocery stores shelves accurately depicted the consumer experience in the early stages of the pandemic, the lack of groceries in stores was not due to broken supply chains. Rather, the increased demand for groceries and changes in consumer purchasing habits created shortages that were later reconciled as the pandemic continued. This position appeared to be supported by the materials supplied by the advertiser.

For these reasons, Council was unanimous in its decision that the general impression conveyed by the advertisement was misleading and that the claims made were not supported by competent and reliable evidence, in contravention of Clauses 1 (a) and (e) of the Code.

Further, in the view of Council, the tone, arrangement of images, and words used in the commercial stoked fear in the viewer. For these reasons, Council was unanimous in its finding that the commercial played “upon fears to mislead the consumer” in contravention of Clause 11 of the Code.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (a), (e) and 11.
Clause 2: Disguised Advertising Techniques
Advertiser: Winnipeg Gold Buyers – Buying Unwanted Jewellery
Industry: Financial service
Region: Manitoba
Media: Television
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The television commercial was displayed in the style of a news broadcast about gold, including a woman appearing to be a news anchor speaking about precious metals and a ticker tape running along the bottom of the screen. The commercial contained statements that the “current exchange rate with the US dollar offers great opportunity to convert gold and silver into Canadian dollars”, and that “people selling precious metals are often downsizing”, which was accompanied by a clip of an older couple packing belongings into boxes. The commercial also included tips on how to get the most back for precious metals, such as finding a reputable company. The advertiser’s name and contact information appeared at the end of the commercial.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was presented as a news bulletin, which was misleading, and that the representations about the current dollar exchange rate were inaccurate.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the statement about exchange rates was factually true, since the exchange rate makes the Canadian dollar worth less relative to the US dollar and the price of gold in Canadian dollars is therefore higher. The advertiser further submitted that gold has been reaching all-time highs in Canadian dollars. The advertiser noted that this commercial has run for many years without any issues.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s response, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions. The factual basis of the commercial was not called into question by the Council, and the case was reviewed under Clause 2 (Disguised Advertising Techniques) of the Code.

The majority of Council members agreed with the complainant that the way in which the commercial was formatted made it appear to be a news story, and that it was not until the very end that it became clear to the viewer it was an advertisement. Themajority of Council found that the advertisement was therefore presented in a format that concealed the fact that it was an advertisement, in contravention of Clause 2 of the Code. It was relevant to the majority decision that the advertisement appeared to be directed towards an older population, who may be more easily misled by the nature of the advertisement.

A minority of Council members did not find a contravention of Clause 2 when looking at the advertisement in its totality. These Council members determined that the inclusion of the advertiser’s logo, website address and voiceover made it clear to viewers that the commercial was indeed an advertisement. However, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clause 2.

Non-Identified Cases - January 1 to July 31, 2020

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Food Company
Industry: Food and non-alcoholic beverage
Region: Quebec
Media: Out-of-Home – Billboard
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertisement was seen on a billboard in Montreal. It compared the amount of water used in the advertiser’s product to that of another generic consumable product of the larger category, and joked about the benefits of using less water.
Complaint: According to the complainant, the scientific information provided in the ad was inaccurate because no source for the data was provided in the ad and the complainant could not confirm the accuracy of the claim. Furthermore, in the complainant’s opinion, the advertisement joked about the benefits of using less water in a way that was inappropriate, and ultimately misleading to the consumer.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council the advertiser provided data, including a study conducted by an independent third party, to support its claim of the amount of water in its product compared to the other product. The advertiser further indicated that the statements about the benefits of saving water were hyperbole or puffery that the consumer would never take seriously.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s response, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions under Clause 1 (Accuracy and Clarity) of the Code. In the view of Council, the data and study supplied by the advertiser demonstrated that the comparative claim was supported by competent and reliable evidence in accordance with section 1 (e) of the Code.

However, in assessing the truthfulness and accuracy of advertising under this Clause, the focus is on the message as received or perceived, i.e. the general impression conveyed by the advertisement. In this instance, Council considered the ad in its totality and determined that consumers would reasonably be confused, and ultimately misled, by the advertisement when viewed overall. According to Council, the comparative claim, in juxtaposition to a claim that is meant to be puffery, creates doubt as to what is fact and what is hyperbole. Council carefully considered the role that humour was intended to play. However, water scarcity is a very serious issue, and implying - through the blurring between facts and jokes - that a switch to the advertiser’s product could help to address that issue, was found to be misleading in this instance.

Although not specifically required by the Code, Council thought that if the source of the data behind claim were identified, it might have helped to distinguish the line between fact versus hyperbole in the advertisement. This, however, was not done.

For the reasons above, the Council unanimously found the advertisement to be misleading in contravention of Clause 1(a).

Infraction: Clause 1 (a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Online retailer
Industry: Retail
Region: National
Media: Website, Out-of-Home
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s website and out-of-home advertisements promoted that they were #1 in their industry. Specifically, the out-of-home advertisement promoted the advertiser as a preferred destination for consumers and the website promoted the advertiser as a superior service for consumers.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that both the out-of-home campaign and website made claims that were unsubstantiated and false, as the advertiser was not in the business of providing the full scope of goods and services implied by the claim. According to the complainant, the advertising misrepresented the advertiser’s actual business, which was narrower than the claims made in the advertising.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the factual basis for the complaint is inaccurate, as the advertiser’s business is well established;  that it provides the broader category of goods and services  claimed in the advertisements; that the representations in the advertisements were accurate, as the advertiser is indeed the leader in its category; and lastly that in any event, the representations amounted to puffery. The advertiser submitted evidence to substantiate its superiority claims.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s thorough response and comprehensive evidence, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions. Council’s analysis for each of the advertisements was similar.

While the advertiser submitted that its claims accurately reflected the scope of its business, the majority of Council found that the advertiser’s business is a subcategory of the broader business represented by the claims. The advertiser’s business is narrower than what was conveyed in the advertisement, creating an unrealistic expectation of the services it provides. Further, the substantiation provided for the superiority claims supported only the subcategory, and not the broader business claimed by the advertisement.

Council further determined that, in this context, the superiority claims were more than mere puffery. Instead, they could be taken literally to imply a ranking in comparison to competitors in the market and in connection with a specific scope of products and services.

For these reasons, the majority of Council determined that the advertisements conveyed the general impression that consumers would be getting a broader, fuller service than what the advertiser offered in contravention of Clause 1(a) of the Code.

A minority of Council members did not find a contravention of Clause 1(a) when looking at the advertisements in their totality. These Council members determined that the general impression conveyed with all of the text and images accurately described and reflected the scope of the advertiser’s business, and that the claims with respect to this subcategory were substantiated. However, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clause 1 (a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Rental service provider
Industry: Rental service
Region: British Columbia
Media: Facebook and Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s website promoted space to rent at a certain price with a list of specific properties underneath the promotion. The website also invited consumers to ask how to get space for free for a limited time, with a map that highlighted certain properties and a list of the properties available for rent underneath the map.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that both the advertiser’s Facebook campaign and website included a certain property in the advertised offer. When the complainant called the advertiser about the offer, the complainant was informed that the offer applied only to a different property. Further, the advertiser informed the complainant that in order to qualify for the rent-free space, the complainant would first need to sign up for an annual contract and then get entered into a draw.
Advertiser Response: Although the advertiser engaged with Ad Standards during this process, there was no response from the advertiser addressing the complainant’s concerns for Council to review.
Decision: In the absence of information from the advertiser, Council considered the general impression conveyed by all three screenshots of the website submitted by the complainant. The property that the complainant had inquired about was advertised as one of the company’s properties in various parts of the website, but the complainant was unable to rent the space at the advertised rate. The majority of Council members determined that the advertisement was therefore misleading, as there was in fact no offer involving this property, and a contravention of Clause 1(a) of the Code.

Some members of Council were of the view that because the advertisement stated that the offer for renting the space was “from” the advertised price, the offer may not have applied to all of the properties. However, this was not the opinion of the majority who found that the spaces for rent should have been available at the advertised rate when the property was specifically identified in the advertisement.

Infraction: Clause 1 (a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Advertiser: Travel
Industry: Leisure service – Travel service
Region: National
Media: Website and Social Media
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s website and social media platforms promoted an option for either a full refund or travel credit for cancellations.
Complaint: Responding to the post, the complainant contacted the advertiser. The advertiser later changed its policy. The complainant alleged that he acted while the post was live, and yet the refund was not honoured. Instead, the complainant received a future travel credit.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that when the advertisement was posted on its social media channels, it was accurate and honoured. The post was later removed from social media once the refund policy was adjusted. The advertiser’s website was updated to reflect the change, but no new post was made about the change to social media.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s thorough response, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions. Council acknowledged the advertiser’s ability to change the offer over time, in particular during the challenging times faced by the travel industry at the outset of the pandemic.

In this case, the sequence of events was relevant to Council. When the complainant tried to receive the full refund, the advertisement was still posted on the advertiser’s social media platforms. The advertisement was live, and was only taken down later after the complainant’s request for a full refund had been submitted. This resulted in the complainant not being able to receive the offer as advertised. No correction was posted to social channels to identify that the underlying offer had changed; the only notice was on the advertiser’s website.

As a result, Council was unanimous in its decision that the general impression conveyed by the advertisement was misleading in contravention of Clause 1(a) of the Code.

Infraction: Clause 1 (a).
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 8: Professional or Scientific Claims
Advertiser: Health and Wellness Service Provider
Industry: Health and Wellness Service
Region: National
Media: TV
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s commercial promoted, through an interview-style conversation, the benefits of a certain type of testing towards improved results with the services provided.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that scientific data did not support the conclusion that testing increases success.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the support for the testing was provided in a testimonial based upon the genuine, personal opinion of the woman shown speaking in the commercial. The advertiser noted that the woman’s statement began with “I think…”

The advertiser further submitted that the woman’s statement represented her opinion rather than a professional, scientific, or authoritative claim. Nevertheless, the advertiser also submitted evidence to substantiate its claims.

Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s thorough response and comprehensive evidence, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions.

In the view of Council, the general impression conveyed by the advertisement was that if a consumer subscribed for additional testing, the services offered by the advertiser would be more successful. It was unclear to Council whether this was indeed a testimonial rather than a scripted actor portraying a fictitious consumer.  Even if it were a testimonial, Council found that those viewing the commercial would be entitled to take as fact how effortless the program would be, and not just her giving her personal experience.

For these reasons, Council was unanimous in its decision that the general impression conveyed by the advertisement was misleading in contravention of Clause 1(a) of the Code.

Council also considered the scientific claims made in the advertisement under Clauses 1 (e) and 8 of the Code. Under Clause 1 (e), all advertising claims and representations must be supported by competent and reliable evidence. Under Clause 8, Professional or Scientific Claims, advertising claims must not imply that they have a scientific basis that they do not truly possess. A majority of Council members determined that the nature of the conversation between the two women in the advertisement was a representation of scientific fact, not personal opinion. These Council members found that the scientific data provided to substantiate the claims did not sufficiently show a correlation between available scientific literature to facts specific to the advertiser’s actual testing and success of the services provided. On this basis, a majority of Council found the advertisement to contravene Clauses 1 (e) and 8 of the Code.

Infraction: Clause 1 (a), (e) and 8.
Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 10: Safety
Advertiser: Car Manufacturer
Industry: Automotive
Region: National
Media: Television
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser’s TV commercial promoted its vehicle driving in winter conditions with snow and ice.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the commercial encouraged unsafe driving by implying that the advertiser’s vehicle would be safe on the roads during snowy and icy weather conditions.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the commercial depicted professional drivers driving the advertised vehicle on a closed course in a manner that was safe. The commercial promoted the safety features for buyers concerned with Canadian winter driving.
Decision: Council appreciated the advertiser’s response, and considered the complaint together with the advertiser’s submissions. Council also considered the application of Interpretation Guideline #4 (Alleged Infractions of Clauses 10 or 14: Motor Vehicle Advertising) in this case. While Council acknowledged the advertiser’s message about the safety of the vehicle in snowy conditions, Council was of the view that the imagery in the commercial was more extreme than regular snowy road conditions. In the majority of Council’s view, the overall effect of the commercial with the imagery and statements made was to glamourize driving on unsafe roads. As such, the majority of Council determined that the commercial displayed a disregard for safety by depicting situations that might reasonably be interpreted as encouraging unsafe or dangerous practices, in violation of Clause 10 of the Code.

Further, the majority of Council determined that the disclaimer was not clearly legible, in violation of Clause 1 (d) of the Code.

A minority of Council found that the call outs to the safety features of the vehicle combined with the way the commercial was shot made it clear that it was filmed on a closed course and was not encouraging unsafe practices. However, this was not the majority opinion.

Infraction: Clauses 1 (d) and 10.
Clause 3: Price Claims
Advertiser: Car Dealership
Industry: Automotive - General
Region: National
Media: Online & Website
Complaint(s): 1
Description: Ads on the advertiser’s website and a third party website both showed a drop in price for the car of interest to the complainant.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that in calling the dealership and making inquiries in person, the lower price was confirmed. After a test drive, the sales representative met with the manager of the car dealership and returned to the complainant with the paperwork for the car, which showed that the cost had increased by several thousand dollars. This new price was closer to the original list price.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the matter had been resolved. The client returned to the dealership and purchased the car, and the discrepancy in pricing was due to an error online.
Decision: Council considered the complaint and the advertiser’s submissions under Clause 3, Price Claims, of the Code. The fact that the complainant purchased the vehicle is not relevant to a determination under the Code.

In the case of an error in pricing, to ensure the advertisement is no longer deceptive for consumers, advertisers should both appropriately amend the advertisement and publish a correction notice as described under “The Consumer Complaint Procedure” on the Ad Standards website. The advertiser in this case did amend the price in its advertisement but there was no corrective advertisement published to notify consumers of the pricing error after it occurred.

On this basis, Council was unanimous in its decision that there was a violation of Clause 3 (a) of the Code.

Infraction: Clauses 3 (a).
Clause 10: Safety
Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals
Advertiser: Manufacturer
Industry: Automotive
Region: National
Media: Television
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertisement included a scene with a dog jogging alongside his/her owner through a park without a leash.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertiser was advocating behaviour which endangers public safety.
Advertiser Response: In its response to Council, the advertiser submitted that the advertisement intended to illustrate that with the right tools, otherwise dangerous conditions can be navigated safely, as shown by a runner with appropriate gear running safely with the well-trained dog running by the runner’s side without a lead, also.
Decision: Council considered the complaint and the advertiser’s submissions. It was left open whether the area shown in the commercial could be an off-leash dog park. The majority of Council found that in the absence of any indication to the contrary (e.g. signage), the advertisement seemed to show the dog off-leash in an area which would, in many jurisdictions including where the complainant resides, violate applicable bylaws. Council also expressed concern that the runner in full stride on ice depicted unsafe behaviour. As such, the majority of Council found that the advertisement exhibited indifference to unlawful behaviour and encouraged unsafe practices, each in contravention of the Code.

A minority of Council members found that the advertisement left open the possibility that the commercial was shot in an off-leash area, in spite of the other dogs shown on leash, and the advertisement therefore did not promote anything unsafe or unlawful. However, this was not the prevailing view of Council.

Infraction: Clauses 10 and 14(b).
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