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Ad Complaints Reports - Q2 2007

Overview
The following are case summaries of consumer complaints about advertising that were upheld by Standards Councils for the Q2 2007. 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 consumer complaints regarding advertisements that were found by a 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 In this section, the advertising in question was not withdrawn or amended before Council met to deliberate on the complaint.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, the Consumer Complaint Procedure, and previous Ad Complaints Reports select the following links:

Canadian Code of Advertising Standards
Consumer Complaint Procedure
Previous Ad Complaints Reports


Identified Cases - April 1, 2007 - June 30, 2007
Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Bell Mobility
Industry: Other
Region: National
Media: Digital - Display ads
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In an advertisement for its calling plans the advertiser claimed that “you can get free local calls between any and all of Bell mobile, residential or business phones.” In the description of the plans that followed, it was stated that the additional, unlimited local calls would cost $10.00 or more per month, depending on the plan selected.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the use of the word “free” in the advertisement was misleading.
Decision: To Council, the word “free” refers to something that is in the nature of a bonus, supplied to customers, at no extra cost, that is in addition to, and other than, the promoted article or service. Because there was a charge of $10.00 per month (or more, depending on the specific plan) for an unlimited number of qualifying calls, Council found the calls cannot be characterized as “free” calls. Council, therefore, upheld the complaint, concluding that using the word “free” in this way was misleading.
Appeal: Council's decision was appealed by the advertiser to an Appeal Panel which, after rehearing the matter, confirmed the original decision by Council.
Infraction: Clause 1(a).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Burger King
Industry: Food
Region: National
Media: Direct Marketing - Other
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a coupon, the advertiser offered an NFL King Bobblehead with the purchase of an adult combo meal. The coupon did not say the offer could not be combined with any other offer.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was inaccurate, because the coupon when presented was not honoured at one of the advertiser’s restaurants in Edmonton.
Decision: Council found that advertisement was inaccurate. By failing to state that the free bobblehead coupon could not be combined with a price "savings" coupon, the advertisement also omitted relevant information.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Computer Trends Canada Inc.
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Alberta
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 2
Description: In a newspaper advertisement, a clearance sale consisting of various computer systems was advertised. Asterisks were included in the advertisement directing readers to a small print disclaimer at the bottom of the page stating that all systems were refurbished unless otherwise stated.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the advertisement was misleading because it did not make it clear that many of the advertised products were not new, but rather, refurbished.
Decision: To Council, the fact that many of the advertised products were refurbished was such an important and fundamental condition to the offer that it should have been prominently disclosed so that it could not have been missed by readers of the advertisement. In this case, Council found that the size of the asterisks was not sufficiently large so as to be noticeable and the qualifying statement that appeared in the very small print disclaimer was not presented in a manner as to be clearly visible and legible.
Infraction: Clauses 1(d).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Honda Canada Inc.
Industry: Cars and motorized vehicles – General
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a television commercial, a Honda CR-V was shown being driven through city streets while encountering various large industrial vehicles, such as a garbage truck, and a transport truck, which, in the commercial, were reduced in size to that of the CR-V. In a voice-over, viewers were invited to “Imagine a world were safety has nothing to do with size”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the commercial implied that the CR-V was as safe as the featured industrial vehicles.
Decision: The general impression communicated by the commercial was that Honda's CR-V was as safe as any other vehicle regardless of the other vehicle’s mass or size. Council also found that this impression related to today's environment and conditions, not to some time in the future or to future objectives which the advertiser hoped to achieve. On this basis, Council concluded that the advertisement was misleading. After receiving Council’s decision, the advertiser amended the voice-over to alleviate Council’s concerns with the original commercial.
Infraction: Clause 1(a).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: MDG Computers Canada Inc.
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Ontario
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser offered consumers various "free" items, such as a digital camera, printer, and MP3 player with the purchase of a Horizon L computer.
Complaint: None of the advertised “free” items were available with the model of computer the consumer wished to purchase.
Decision: Council found that the advertisement omitted relevant information by failing to mention that the free items were only available with certain models.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Sears
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Ontario
Media: Brochures/leaflets/flyers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A heritage style home audio system on a wooden stand was advertised in a flyer at a special price.
Complaint: The complainant tried to purchase the system with the stand, but was told by the advertiser's sales representative that the stand was not included in the advertised price.
Decision: In the advertisement, the stand appeared to be an integral part of this unique audio system. Council, therefore, found that advertisement was inaccurate and omitted relevant information, i.e., that the stand was not included in the price of the system.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Shoppers Drug Mart
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Ontario
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertisement promised “20 x Bonus Points” with the purchase of a specified product priced at $17.99.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertisement was inaccurate because he was not given the full number of points he believed he was entitled to receive according to the advertiser's offer.
Decision: To Council, the term “Bonus Points” means points over–and-above (i.e. in addition to) the regular points available upon the purchase of the promoted product. The regular points on the purchase of the $17.99 product amounted to 180 points. The "Bonus Points" (i.e. extra points) the advertiser promised to award in addition to the regular points should have been 3,600 points (i.e. 180 times 20) for a total of 3,780 points. Council concluded that since the complainant did not receive all of these points the advertisement was inaccurate, and did not clearly and understandably state all pertinent details of the offer.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (c).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: TigerDirect.ca
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: National
Media: Digital - Display ads
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In successive editions of the advertiser’s catalogue, a power supply was listed at several different prices.
Complaint: According to the complainant, the product was not available in Canada at any of the prices advertised in the catalogue.
Decision: The fact that the product was not available in Canada at any of the advertised prices should have been, but was not, included in the advertisement. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement contained a misleading claim and omitted relevant information. Council also considered the disclaimer language used in the advertisement. It stated that the advertiser was not responsible for any typographical, technical, or descriptive errors in the catalogue regarding the advertised products. For the purpose of the Code, advertisers may not rely on a disclaimer that says, in effect, the advertiser is not responsible for the content of the advertising it publicizes.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 5: Guarantees

Advertiser: XCopper Legal Services Inc.
Industry: Other
Region: National
Media: Digital - Display ads
Complaint(s): 1
Description: On its website and in advertisements in several other media, the advertiser claimed “We win or it’s free”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the claim was misleading. Based on his experience with the advertiser, the claim was subject to limitations and conditions that were important but unstated.
Decision: Council found the advertisement was misleading because it did not state that the very broad and unqualified guarantee was significantly limited by conditions.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and 5(Guarantees).


Clause 3: Price Claims

Advertiser: The Learning Annex
Industry: Other
Region: Ontario
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a Canadian newspaper advertisement the advertiser promoted a “Real Estate and Wealth Expo” and quoted the price for the event as $99.00.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the quoted price was misleading because the advertisement did not state that the price was in US dollars.
Decision: Council found that by not stating the fact that the price was in US funds, the advertisement contravened the Code, which requires that prices be quoted in Canadian funds unless otherwise identified in the advertisement.
Infraction: Clause 3(c).
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: “The Learning Annex was very concerned that there was a problem with our advertising, and we quickly corrected the ad. At the beginning of its print advertising campaign for the March 24, 2007 Real Estate & Wealth Expo, our advertising should have specified U.S. dollars. We corrected the error around February 26, 2007. For ticket orders placed after approximately February 26, 2007, the charges were in Canadian dollars. Any customers who told us they misunderstood were refunded the difference between the Canadian and U.S. currencies.”


Clause 10: Safety
Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Dairy Queen
Industry: Food
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 30
Description: In a TV commercial, a child was shown hanging by his clothes on a coat hook on the back of a door, struggling to get down, as his older brother looked on while eating a DQ Blizzard. This scene was followed by another in which the older brother was also shown hanging from the bedroom wall while the boys' father was seen eating a DQ Blizzard and taunting both children.
Complaint: That the commercial depicted an unsafe act, and also condoned bullying behaviour.
Decision: Council concluded that the commercial displayed a disregard for safety by depicting a situation that could reasonably be interpreted as encouraging a dangerous act – one that could be appealing to, and possibly emulated by, children or teenagers. In addition, Council found that the commercial appeared, in a realistic manner, to condone bullying behaviour. In arriving at its decision, Council took into consideration the use of humour in this commercial, but found that it did not negate the impression that the advertisement unacceptably conveyed.
Infraction: Clause 14(b) and Clause 10.
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: “Dairy Queen is all about creating smiles and stories for families and often uses irreverent, off-beat humour in its commercials. The Kit Kat commercial was meant to accentuate this in a humorous way how families interact in a playful manner. Although we are not in agreement with the Council's decision, we are respectful of the process.”


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: American Apparel
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Quebec
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 2
Description: An advertisement on the back cover of a free weekly publication showed a young woman wearing leggings but otherwise naked from the waist up. One arm crossed over her chest, only partially covered her breasts. With her other arm she held one of her legs in the air.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the advertisement offended and degraded women.
Decision: Council understood that fashion advertising is often suggestive and sexy. But the degree of nudity displayed in this advertisement that appeared on the back cover of a free publication was, in Council's opinion gratuitous. It contravened the Code by displaying obvious indifference to conduct or attitudes that offend the standards of public decency prevailing among a significant segment of the population.
Appeal: On an appeal by the advertiser, the Appeal Panel, which was composed of individuals who had not participated in the original decision, confirmed Council’s decision that the advertisement contravened Clause 14. The Appeal Panel acknowledged that the same degree of nudity is often seen in fashion advertisements for products like underwear and swim wear, which women typically wear in a state of near-undress. However, it becomes exploitative and disparaging of women when nudity is the very essence of an advertisement for a product like leggings that women typically wear together with some kind of top.
Infraction: Clause 14(c).


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Amp'd Mobile, Inc.
Industry: Leisure Services-Entertainment, sports and leisure
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 15
Description: The commercial depicted a man standing in a bus ordering passengers to engage in various physical activities. A black man was ordered to fight with an elderly white-haired passenger. Another man was instructed to turn up the volume on his radio; a black woman to “shake her junk”; and the bus driver to hit the brakes. All of the individuals did as they were ordered resulting in near-mayhem. Shown at the end of the commercial were examples of the advertiser's entertainment services that corresponded with the physical activities that were dramatized on the bus.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the commercial condoned and promoted violence and intimidation, promoted racial stereotyping, and denigrated women and the elderly.
Decision: Council found that the commercial appeared in a realistic manner to condone violence and bullying behaviour and demeaned identifiable groups through racial and sexual stereotyping. Council also found that the commercial displayed obvious indifference to conduct that offends the standards of public decency prevailing among a significant segment of the population. In coming to its decision, it was necessary for Council to consider whether the substance of the complaints was mitigated by the elements of humour and/or fantasy in the commercial. Rather than finding that fantasy and humour justified the actions dramatized in this commercial, the majority of Council found the depictions were frighteningly realistic, especially in the context of today's all-too-frequent unprovoked attacks and abuse directed at transit users and drivers in cities across Canada.
Infraction: Clause 14(b), (c), and (d).


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Piscines Val-Morin Inc.
Industry: Leisure Services-Entertainment, sports and leisure
Region: Quebec
Media: Out-of-Home - Billboard, Poster, Transit
Complaint(s): 5
Description: In a billboard advertisement for swimming pools, a woman wearing a bikini was photographed lying on her stomach on a deck. The main focus of the photograph was on her buttocks and lower back. The headline of the advertisement read – “All forms …of pools”.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that the advertisement objectified women.
Decision: Council agreed with the complainants, finding that the association of a part of a woman’s body with an object (a pool) in this advertisement objectified and demeaned women.
Infraction: Clause 14 (c).
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: “In this campaign, we wanted to emphasize our large selection of pools and the superior quality of our spas. Through the use of billboards, we depict the body of a man showing off his abdominal muscles and the body of a woman in a bathing suit, lying on her stomach. These images are modest and relevant since we are marketing the pleasures of water in spas and pools. With the male ad, we say that “it is hard to find better spas else where”, making an obvious reference to the hardness of his abdominal muscles. In the case of the female ad, with the “of all shapes” headline, the hint to the woman’s shape is also obvious. In both cases, the bodies are beautiful and make people want to look like them.”


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: RONA Inc.
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A television commercial showed a female customer apparently suffering from “homestressitis”. While attempting to diagnose the woman’s ailment a female salesperson asked whether the woman’s husband helped much in the home. When the woman shook her head in disagreement, the associate commented “They’re all like that aren’t they?”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the salesperson’s comment in this commercial was derogatory to, and also denigrated men, in particular, married men.
Decision: Council recognized that the commercial demonstrated a slightly unreal and cartoon-like touch. However, the response to the female customer delivered in the most realistic manner by the female salesperson appeared to Council to be a disparaging comment to the effect that, in general, all husbands are lazy. Council concluded that by this statement and delivery, the commercial disparaged an identifiable group, i.e. men/married men.
Infraction: Clause 14(c).
Advertiser's Verbatim Statement: "RONA was sorry to hear that its 'Relaxing Home Renovations' commercial offended someone. This was never RONA's intention and the company wishes to extend its apologies. The ad concept, one of four similar short segments to air on HGTV in the Spring, was meant to be a humorous way to engage customers to undertake do-it-yourself home improvement projects. RONA is amending the commercial to ensure its compliance with ASC regulations for any future broadcasts."




Non-Identified Cases - April 1, 2007 - June 30, 2007
Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Service Provider
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: National
Media: Digital - Display ads
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser claimed that certain entertainment content could be downloaded from its website.
Complaint: The entertainment content was not available to Canadian customers.
Decision: The advertiser acknowledged that due to an inadvertent programming error, the material was not available to Canadians. Council, therefore, upheld the complaint, finding that the advertisement omitted relevant information.
Infraction: Clause 1(b).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Telecommunications Service Provider
Industry: Other
Region: Manitoba
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A phone plan was advertised at a specified package price.
Complaint: The advertisement did not mention that the package was not available in certain areas.
Decision: The fact that the offer did not apply in certain urban areas was important information that should have been specifically disclosed in the advertisement. The disclaimer "available in selected areas only" in the advertisement did not convey the extent of the coverage limitations of the advertised plan. Council, therefore, found the advertisement was misleading and omitted relevant information.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).