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 In this section, the advertising in question was not withdrawn or amended before Council met to deliberate on the complaint.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, 2020 - June 30, 2020

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
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).

Non-Identified Cases - January 1, 2020 - June 30, 2020

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: Clauses 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: Clauses 1 (a).
Clause 10: Accuracy and Clarity
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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