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Interpreting the Code

Ad Standards develops Interpretation Guidelines to enhance industry and public understanding of the interpretation and application of the clauses of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

In assessing impression(s) likely to be conveyed by an advertisement, Council shall take into consideration the use and application in the advertisement(s) of such elements as humour and fantasy.

May 2003

2.1 As used in Clause 12 of the Code, the phrase "advertising that is directed to children", (advertising to children), includes a commercial message on behalf of a product or service for which children are the only users or form a substantial part of the market as users, and the message (i.e. language, selling points, visuals) is presented in a manner that is directed primarily to children under the age of 12.

2.2 Advertising to children that appears in any medium (other than the media specifically excluded under the Code from the definition "medium" and from the application of the Code) shall be deemed to violate Clause 12 of the Code if the advertising does not comply with any of the following principles or practices:

a. Food Product Advertising to Children1

Food product advertising addressed to children must not be inconsistent with the pertinent provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Food Labelling for Industry (CFIA Industry Labelling Tool). This Code Interpretation Guideline is intended, among other purposes, to ensure that advertisements representing mealtime clearly and adequately depict the role of the advertised product within the framework of a balanced diet, and that snack foods are clearly presented as such, not as substitutes for meals.

b. Healthy, Active Living3

Advertising to children for a product or service should encourage responsible use of the advertised product or service with a view toward the healthy development of the child.

Advertising of food products should not discourage or disparage healthy lifestyle choices or the consumption of fruits or vegetables, or other foods recommended for increased consumption in Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, and in Health Canada’s nutrition policies and recommendations applicable to children under 12.

c. Excessive Consumption3

The amount of product featured in food advertising to children should not be excessive or more than would be reasonable to acquire, use or, where applicable, consume, by a person in the situation depicted.

If an advertisement depicts food being consumed by a person in the advertisement, or suggests that the food will be consumed, the quantity of food shown should not exceed the labelled serving size on the Nutrition Facts Panel (where no such serving size is applicable, the quantity of food shown should not exceed a single serving size that would be appropriate for consumption by a person of the age depicted).

d. Factual Presentation3

Audio or visual presentations must not exaggerate service, product or premium characteristics, such as performance, speed, size, colour, durability, etc.

Advertising to children must not misrepresent the size of the product.

When showing results from a drawing, construction, craft or modelling toy or kit, the results should be reasonably attainable by an average child.

The words "new", "introducing" and "introduces" or similar words may be used in the same context in any children's advertising for a period of up to one year only.

e. Product Prohibitions3

Products not intended for use by children may not be advertised either directly or through promotions that are primarily child-oriented.

Drug products, including vitamins, may not be advertised to children, with the exception of children's fluoride toothpastes.

f. Avoiding Undue Pressure3

Children must not be directly urged to purchase or to ask their parents to make inquiries or purchases.

g. Price and Purchase Terms3

Price and purchase terms, when used in advertising directed to children, must be clear and complete. When parts or accessories that a child might reasonably suppose to be part of the normal purchase are available only at extra cost, this must be clearly communicated.

The costs of goods, articles or services in advertising directed to children must not be minimized, as by the use of "only", "just", "bargain price," "lowest price(s)," etc.

The statement "it has to be put together" or a similar phrase in language easily understood by children must be included when it might normally be assumed that an article featured in advertising directed to children would be delivered assembled.

When more than one product is featured in advertising directed to children, it must be made clear in the advertising which of the products are sold separately (this includes accessories).

h. Comparison Claims3

In advertising to children, no comparison may be made with a competitor's product or service when the effect is to diminish the value of other products or services.

i. Safety3

Adults or children must not be portrayed in clearly unsafe acts or situations except where the message primarily and obviously promotes safety.

Products must not be shown being used in an unsafe or dangerous manner (e.g. tossing a food item into the air and attempting to catch it in the mouth).

j. Social Values3

A range of values that are inconsistent with the moral, ethical or legal standards of contemporary Canadian society must not be encouraged or portrayed.

Advertising to children must not imply that, without the advertised product, a child will be open to ridicule or contempt; or that possession or use of a product makes the owner superior (this latter prohibition does not apply to true statements regarding educational or health benefits).

k. General2

Advertising to children must:

use age-appropriate language that is easily understandable by children of the age to whom the advertisement is directed;

refrain from using content that might result in harm to children;

collect only the information reasonably required to allow children to engage in the activity, e.g. collect only the minimal amount of personal information sufficient to determine the winner(s) in contests, games or sweepstakes-type of advertising to children;

limit the advertiser’s right to deal with anyone other than the parents or guardians of children who win a contest, game or sweepstakes promotion;

require children to obtain their parent’s and/or guardian’s permission before they provide any information; and make reasonable efforts to ensure that parental consent is given;

refrain from using the data collected from children to advertise and promote products or services other than those designed for/appropriate for children;

not attempt to collect from children data related to the financial situation or the privacy of any member of the family. Furthermore, advertisers must not, and must not ask for permission to, disclose personal information that may identify children to third parties without obtaining prior consent from parents, unless authorized by law. For this purpose, third parties do not include agents or others who provide support for operational purposes of a website and who do not use or disclose a child’s personal information for any other purpose.

l. Assessment3

Each advertisement shall be judged on its individual merit.

1: April 2004
2: April 2006
3: September 2007

When evaluating complaints involving environmental claims that allegedly are misleading or deceptive, Council may, in exercising its judgment, take into account the standards proposed by the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Standards Association in the Special Publication PLUS 14021, Environmental claims: A guide for industry and advertisers.

November 2008

4.1 When evaluating complaints about advertising involving depictions of motorized vehicles that allegedly contravene Clause 10 (Safety), Council will take into account the following questions:

Does the depiction of the performance, power or acceleration of the vehicle convey the impression that it is acceptable to exceed speed limits?

Does the depiction of a vehicle’s handling ability involve potentially unsafe actions such as cutting in and out of traffic, excessively aggressive driving, or car chases in a residential setting?

Does the depiction appear realistic or does it appear to be unreal, as in a fantasy-like scenario that is unlikely to be copied or emulated in real life?

Would it be reasonable to interpret the depicted situation as condoning or encouraging unsafe driving practices?

4.2 When evaluating complaints involving depictions in automobile advertising that allegedly contravene Clause 10 (Safety) or Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals), Council also will take into account the following questions developed and endorsed by the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association and Global Automakers of Canada:

Is the vehicle operated in violation of applicable laws or beyond reasonable speed under the circumstances taking into account the portrayed road, weather, traffic and surrounding conditions (e.g. children in the area,) or over usual speed limits in Canada?

Does the depiction of the performance, power or acceleration and braking of the vehicle, taking into consideration the advertisement as a whole including visual (both images and text) and audio messages convey the impression that it is acceptable to exceed speed limits or to otherwise operate a vehicle unsafely or illegally?

Does the depiction of racing and rallies, and of other competition environments, taking into consideration the advertisement as a whole including visual (both images and text) and audio messages, convey the impression that production vehicles could be driven like racing or competition vehicles on a public roadway?

Is the advertisement encouraging or endorsing vehicle use that is aggressive, violent or injurious toward other road users, or that denigrates or disparages cautious behaviour when using a vehicle?

September 2009

The following provides guidance on disclosure that is required in order for a testimonial, endorsement, review or other representation (in any medium) to comply with Clause 7 of the Code.

A testimonial, endorsement, review or other representation must disclose any "material connection" between the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation and the "entity" (as defined in the Code) that makes the product or service available to the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation, except when that material connection is one that consumers would reasonably expect to exist, such as when a celebrity publicly endorses a product or service.

If such a material connection exists, that fact and the nature of the material connection must be clearly and prominently disclosed in close proximity to the representation about the product or service.

Examples of how to disclose material connections can be found in the FTC’s Guide to Testimonials & endorsements, available at, and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s White Paper – Ethical Word of Mouth Marketing Disclosure Best Practices in Today’s Regulatory Environment, available at

October 2016

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