How Complaints about Advertising are Handled

Note: Below is a summary of the Consumer Complaints Procedure. For a detailed explanation, please visit our main Complaints page.

Ad Standards carefully considers and responds to all written complaints from members of the public about advertising. The consumer complaints process includes the following steps.

1. Complaint Receipt
Each written consumer complaint is reviewed by Ad Standards against the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code).

One (1) complaint is sufficient for Ad Standards to activate the process to determine whether an advertisement does/does not contravene the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. The number of complaints submitted does not change nor influence the rigorous complaint process.

2. Preliminary Review
Ad Standards conducts a preliminary evaluation of the complaint.

If the complaint does not raise an issue under the Code, or if Ad Standards cannot accept the complaint, Ad Standards sends a letter of explanation. Details can be found in the Exclusions and Non-reviewable Complaints sections of the Code.

3. How Complaints Are Handled
Complaints that raise Code issues are handled in different ways depending upon the nature of the complaint.

Complaints About Safety Issues (Clause 10) or Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals (Clause 14)
The verbatim complaint is forwarded to the advertiser who is given the opportunity to respond directly to the consumer about the complaint. If, after receiving the advertiser’s response, the consumer is not satisfied, the consumer can request a review by the Standards Council. Council is made up of senior representatives from the advertising industry and the public, who volunteer their time to support the consumer complaints process.

Complaints Under All Other Code Clauses
The verbatim complaint is forwarded to the advertiser who is asked to comment, in writing to Ad Standards, on the consumer’s concerns. If Ad Standards determines there remains an issue under the Code, the matter will be forwarded to Council for a decision.

Administratively Resolved Complaints About Accuracy and Clarity (Clause1) or Price Claims (Clause 3)
Ad Standards uses this mechanism as a streamlined procedure to handle simple, non-complicated cases that typically they involve a potential contravention related to Clause 1 (Accuracy and Clarity) and/or Clause 3 (Price Claims), without requiring Council’s adjudication.

4. Council Review and Decision

Complaints forwarded to Council are carefully reviewed under the Code. If Council determines that the advertisement contravenes one or more clauses of the Code, Council will uphold the complaint. The advertiser is asked to amend or withdraw the advertisement.

Whether or not the complaint is upheld, Ad Standards will inform the consumer and the advertiser, in writing, of Council’s decision.

5. Appealing a Council Decision

If the consumer or advertiser disagrees with Council’s decision, the consumer or advertiser can request an appeal within seven days of receiving the decision. For more information, refer to Appealing a Council Decision on our main Complaints page.

Results of Council decisions are regularly reported by Ad Standards.

Summaries of Standards Council decisions finding an advertisement contravenes the Code are published in Complaints Case Summaries

Ad Standards does not publish summaries of decisions about advertisements that are not found to contravene the Code.

Learn more about the role of the Council.

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