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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 In this section, the advertising in question was not withdrawn or amended before Council met to deliberate on the complaint.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, 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 - Oct 1, 2017 - Dec 15, 2017
Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: International Auction
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Ontario
Media: Brochures/leaflets/flyers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a flyer, the advertiser claimed that it pays “the highest cash prices for your jewels, coins and any other item made of gold or silver.”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the claim was not substantiated in any way.
Decision: In its response to Council, the advertiser stated that it conducted a telephone survey of twenty competitors to compare the prices they offered. However, the advertiser did not provide Council with any data to support the claim that it pays “the highest amounts”. Council, therefore. found that this absolute claim was not supported by conclusive and reliable evidence as required under the Code.
Infraction: Clause 1(e).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited
Industry: Retail (Supermarkets, Dept stores etc.)
Region: Nova Scotia
Media: Digital - Marketer - Owned Websites
Complaint(s): 1
Description: Four tires were advertised online at the reduced price of $31.43 per tire. When the complainant attempted to place her online order, the advertiser’s website showed that the exact model of the four tires the complainant wanted to purchase were available at the advertiser’s Halifax-Lower Sackville store.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the advertisement was misleading because the store manager would not honour the advertised price for the tires.
Decision: Based on the facts, Council upheld the complaint and found that the advertisement was misleading.
Infraction:


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Coastal Heat Pumps Victoria
Industry: Household goods - Cleaning and maintenance product
Region: British Columbia
Media: Digital - Marketer - Owned Websites
Complaint(s): 1
Description: On its website, the advertiser claimed that heat pumps provided consistent heat in winter and filtered air conditioning in the summer for “up to 50% less than oil, gas or baseboard heating.”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that the claim could not be substantiated.
Decision: Council agreed with the complainant finding that the unqualified claim was not substantiated by the information the advertiser provided. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement failed to include important information that would enable consumers to fully understand the basis for the advertised comparison, concluding that the advertisement omitted relevant information and was misleading.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Communauto
Industry: Transport - Rental/ leasing services
Region: National
Media: Digital - Marketer - Owned Websites
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A car-sharing company advertised rental rates on its website.
Complaint: The complainant, an Ottawa resident, alleged the advertisement was misleading because the advertised rental rates for a car offered by the advertiser were not available in Ottawa.
Decision: In fact, the rates advertised by Communauto were only available in Quebec. In other parts of Canada, cars were provided at different rates by companies partnering with Communato. Council found that the advertiser’s website failed to clarify that Communauto vehicles were available only in Quebec. For other parts of Canada, cars were provided by other companies provided car but at different rental rates than Communauto’s. Council concluded, therefore, that the advertisement omitted relevant information and did not clearly and understandably state all pertinent details of an offer.
Infraction: Clauses 1(b) and (c).


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 4: Bait and Switch

Advertiser: Air China
Industry: Transport - Airlines
Region: Quebec
Media: Digital - Display ads
Complaint(s): 1
Description: The advertiser promoted a Father’s Day sale offering flights from Canada to destinations in Asia for only $499 during September, October and November. Nothing indicated that quantities were limited and no other restrictions were mentioned.
Complaint: The complainant tried to buy tickets during the first minutes of the sale, but none were available for any dates at the advertised price during the three-month period.
Decision: The advertiser did not respond to Ad Standards’ request for its comments on the merits of the complaint. Council did not find anything in the advertisement that indicated that quantities were severely limited. Council, therefore, found that the advertisement was misleading and misrepresented the consumer’s opportunity to purchase the flights at the terms presented in the advertisement.
Infraction: Clause 1(a) and 4.


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 6: Comparative Advertising
Clause 8: Professional or Scientific Claims

Advertiser: Cambridge Laboratories
Industry: Health & beauty - Other
Region: Quebec
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: An advertisement for a “Cellular Repair Infuser” contained the following headline in large bold print: “Pharmaceutical Corporations Are Trying To Halt This Breakthrough Scientific Discovery That Is Poised To Make 90% Of ALL Known Prescription Drugs Obsolete!” The sub-heading read: “Because Big Pharma Only Makes Money If You Stay Sick!” Within the advertisement, a number of claims and statements were made, including: • “This new Breakthrough Scientific Discovery (called the Cellular Repair Infuser) has been PROVEN to make ‘that’ possible…” The explanation of what ‘that’ referred to was: “…your life without sickness, without soreness, without cancer or diabetes, without the aches and pains of aging, without allergies…free of heart, lung and liver problems, free of discomfort…all replaced by total wellbeing and boundless energy wrapped in a body of wrinkle free youthful looking skin.”; • Used as directed, the advertised product is “guaranteed to end the aches and pains of aging”; “WILL REPAIR all 37.2 million human cells – just as starfish in NATURE repair themselves on a cellular level, (can actually re-grow lost limbs)”; and has been “CLINICALLY PROVEN (in over 90 peer reviewed scientific research papers…)” to “Soften and reduce wrinkles; grow thick, shiny hair; increase memory function; eliminate IBS & constipation; end joint & muscle pain; end cold sores, acne; end psoriasis, warts, eczema; lift mood and end depression; regain healthy heart, lungs; regain healthy liver & kidneys; reinforce strong bones; fight heart disease; fight cancer; reduce the incidence of diabetes; slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia…”
Complaint: The complainant alleged that health claims made about the product in the advertisement were misleading and were not supported by reliable evidence.
Decision: Council reviewed the studies and papers that were referred to Ad Standards by the advertiser, many of which were in the form of abstracts. Not one of these studies reported that the results were sufficiently conclusive or determinative to form a reliable, projectable basis on which to make the kind of absolute claims that are found in the advertising in question. And, none of these studies addressed the efficacy of the advertised product in relation to cancer, heart disease, liver and kidney function, “thick and shiny hair”, eczema, bone density, depression, etc., as claimed in the advertisement. Council, therefore, concluded: • that the advertisement contained, or directly or by implication made, inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements or representations; • that the advertisement omitted relevant information (such as, but not only the fact that the efficacy of the product in relation to the conditions identified in the advertisement are not, at this time, scientifically substantiated); • that the advertising claims were not supported by competent, reliable evidence; • that the advertising claims implied they had a scientific basis that they did not truly possess; and, • that the advertisement unfairly discredited, disparaged and attacked the pharmaceutical industry.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a), (b), (e), 6 and 8.


Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity
Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Edmonton Prolife
Industry: Non-commercial - Other
Region: Alberta
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 2
Description: Two different advertisements, each in the form of a quiz and entitled “The Truth About Abortion”, were published in a local newspaper. The first asked: “Approximately how many abortions are committed each year in Alberta? Three numerical options were presented as possible answers. In the second advertisement, the question posed was: “Which procedure is performed purely at the patient’s request without a doctor’s referral or waiting period?” The answers presented in this advertisement were: hip replacement, MRI, and abortion. Both advertisements showed an image of an infant’s feet cradled in an adult’s hands.
Complaint: Regarding the first advertisement, the complainant alleged that the use of the word “committed” misleadingly suggested that abortion is a crime and also demeaned women who chose to have abortions. Regarding the second advertisement, the complainant alleged the advertisement was misleading because it suggested that abortion is not regulated in any way.
Decision: Clause 1 (Accuracy and Clarity) Advertisement #1. Council agreed with the complainant finding that the use of the word “committed” rather than “performed” inaccurately implies it is illegal in Alberta to secure an abortion. Advertisement #2. Council found that it was misleading to characterize abortion as a procedure to be “performed at the patient’s request without a referral.” Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals) Advertisement #1. Council found that by using the word “committed”, this advertisement suggests it is illegal to seek or get an abortion in Alberta, which is to “demean or denigrate” women who chose to have abortions and “bring such women into public contempt.”
Appeal: At an Appeal Hearing of Council requested by the advertiser, the Appeal Panel affirmed Council’s original decision.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and 14 (c).


Clause 10: Safety

Advertiser: Central Life Sciences
Industry: Health & beauty - Other
Region: National
Media: Audio Visual - Traditional televison
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a television commercial for a flea and tick spray for animals, a very young girl was shown alone in a room interacting with a large dog. In one scene, the young girl reached up with her hand to touch the dog’s mouth.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the commercial depicted a potentially dangerous situation, thereby encouraging an unsafe act.
Decision: Council agreed with the complainant. Council concluded that by showing a very young child, in very close proximity to a large dog, and reaching out to touch the dog’s mouth, apparently in the absence of or supervision by any adult, the commercial depicted a disregard for safety and encouraged unsafe practices.
Infraction: Clause 10.


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Canadian Centre for Bio-ethical Reform
Industry: Non-commercial - Other
Region: Ontario
Media: Brochures/leaflets/flyers
Complaint(s): 36
Description: An unsolicited advertisement delivered door-to-door in the Greater Toronto Area featured graphic images of aborted foetuses.
Complaint: The complainants alleged that these images are excessively graphic, shocking, and upsetting ‒ particularly to children.
Decision: Council concluded that by its use of highly graphic and disturbing images, the advertiser displayed obvious indifference to conduct or attitudes that offend the standards of public decency prevailing among a significant segment of the population. To date, the advertiser has not responded to ASC’s requests that this advertising which prominently features these disturbing images, be permanently withdrawn or appropriately amended.
Infraction: Clause 14 (d).




Non-identified Cases - Oct 1, 2017 - Dec 15, 2017
Canadian Code of Advertising Standards

Clause 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Advertiser: Health and Beauty Services Provider
Industry: Health and beauty services
Region: Ontario
Media: Newspapers
Complaint(s): 1
Description: A newspaper advertisement invited readers to contact the advertiser to see whether they qualified to become part of a consumer/user study group.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the commercial intent of the advertisement was disguised as a research project.
Decision: To Council, the overwhelming impression created by the advertising was that its principal purpose was to recruit candidates to participate in a science-based study. The advertiser later disclosed the underlying commercial purpose of the advertised study, which was to sell the advertiser’s device to participants in the study who benefited from using the device during the test period. Council concluded that by failing to clearly disclose relevant information, the advertisement was misleading. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was permanently withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaint.
Appeal: At an Appeal Hearing of Council, requested by the advertiser, the Appeal Panel affirmed Council’s original decision.
Infraction: Clauses 1(a) and (b).


Clause 2: Disguised Advertising Techniques
Clause 7: Testimonials

Advertiser: Travel Organization
Industry: Leisure services - Travel services
Region: National
Media: Digital - Display ads
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a Twitter posting, a UK blogger promoted Ottawa as an attractive travel destination.
Complaint: The complainant alleged the post was not identified as sponsored content.
Decision: The advertiser had contracted with the blogger to write, for a UK audience, social media posts about the blogger’s trip to Canada. The post in question, although intended for UK residents, was accessible to Canadians as well, highlighting matters of interests to Canadians by including in the post “#Canada” and “#Ottawa”. Because the post did not clarify that it was sponsored, Council found that the post was disguised advertising. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was permanently withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaint.
Infraction: Clauses 2 and 7.


Clause 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertiser: Automotive Service Provider
Industry: Cars and motorized vehicles – General
Region: Alberta
Media: Radio
Complaint(s): 1
Description: In a commercial sponsored by a service provider for the automobile industry, an individual was described as a “cracker”.
Complaint: The complainant alleged that as used in this commercial, the word “cracker” was racist and disparaging.
Decision: Council understood that not in every case been historically has the word “cracker” been used with racist connotations or overtones, to disparage a person or group of persons. Council also recognized that in current times the word “cracker” is typically used pejoratively, not unlike the term “white trash”. Council noted in this commercial that the word “cracker” seemed to be applied in a negative sense: as a personal put down. Council found, therefore, that the commercial demeaned and disparaged an identifiable person. The advertiser is not identified in this case summary because the advertisement was permanently withdrawn before Council met to adjudicate the complaint.
Infraction: Clause 14 (c).