Canadians formally complained about 1,142 ads last year: Ad Standards

Advertising Standards Canada received 1,858 complaints about 1,142 ads last year according to its annual Ad Complaints and Disputes Report, with the majority of complaints focused on accuracy and price claims, and TV ads drawing the most consumer ire.

Consistent with previous years, the majority of consumer complaints received by ASC were around accuracy and clarity/price claims (852 complaints about 526 ads), followed by unacceptable depictions and portrayals (488 complaints about 283 ads), and safety (214 complaints about 46 ads).

The 2019 complaint total was down slightly from 2,005 in 2018, although ASC said that was largely because of a new internal process implemented in October 2018 limiting the number of complaints that can be reviewed by staff to 10 per ad.

Of the total complaints received, 949 complaints about 700 ads were accepted by staff for consideration under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

The remaining complaints were not accepted, either because they were exempted from the application of the code (such as ads airing on U.S television stations or meeting the definition of a political or election ad) or the complaint’s subject matter was outside ASC’s jurisdiction (such as complaints related to advertising unauthorized natural health products).

Of the complaints accepted and reviewed by ASC, 351 complaints about 267 ads raised one or more potential issues under the advertising Code. Most complaints were administratively resolved, although a total of 50 ads were forwarded to Standards Council for adjudication—37 of which were were found to contravene one or more clauses of the Code.

For the third year in a row, most consumer complaints were related to non-commercial entities, with 537 total complaints—356 of which were submitted about advocacy advertising. The most common complaints in this category were related to Clause 1 of the Code around accuracy and clarity, and Clause 14 around unacceptable depictions and portrayals.

The category that has traditionally generated the most consumer complaints, retail, garnered 211 complaints in 2019, followed by leisure services with 168 complaints and food with 110 complaints.

TV ads generated the greatest number of complaints (604), followed by out-of-home (467) and digital (408, of which 135 were related to ads on social platforms). Radio was the only other medium to crack 100 complaints, with 146. There were also six complaints about influencer marketing, all of which were administratively resolved.

Chris Powell