Canada’s advertising industry adjudicator has received about 40 complaints about COVID-related issues in advertising, but only three have been found to violate the industry’s Code of Standards.
The common complaints received by Ad Standards Council involve depiction of gatherings of people not wearing masks or observing social distancing guidelines, as well as products that claim or imply they treat, prevent or cure COVID-19.
Ad Standards’ most recent update includes guidance to advertisers. It notes that depictions of small groups or families interacting in private spaces without face coverings or social distancing are likely to be found acceptable, as the depictions are broadly following public health recommendations. On the other hand, consumers shopping in public indoor spaces without face coverings are more likely to be found in violation. The update warned that these are general guidelines only.
While some of the 40 complaints are still being reviewed, three have been found to violate the Council’s Code of Advertising Standards. Two of those three are under appeal by the (unnamed) advertiser.
The advisory notes that nine complaints have been forwarded to Health Canada, but does not disclose any resolution. Otherwise, the most common complaints are:
- Eight complaints about playing upon fears to mislead consumers
- Five complaints about ads for anti-bacterial products that implied effectiveness against COVID-19. Ad Standards did not find that the ad was inaccurate or conveyed a misleading impression.
- Five complaints about products or services that are not available to Canadians
- Three complaints about depictions of social or event gatherings. The Council ruled that these ads “did not display a disregard for safety by depicting situations that might reasonably be interpreted as encouraging unsafe or dangerous practices, nor did it exhibit obvious indifference to, unlawful behaviour.”
Ad Standards is the self-regulatory body for Canada’s advertising industry. It administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards to help determine what is acceptable advertising and to adjudicate and resolve consumer complaints and competitive disputes.