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Canadians more likely than Americans to be less tolerant of "untruthful" ads

By Julie King |

Call Canadians more cautious, or perhaps more skeptical. Either way, a new survey has found that when it comes to advertising, Canadians are more likely than Americans to be less tolerant of advertising they perceive to be untruthful.

The ASC 2011 Survey, conducted by the Gandalf Group for Advertising Standards Canada (ASC), found some interesting differences in how Canadians and Americans viewed advertising. It also found a number of differences within Canada between Quebec and other Canadian provinces.

Here is a look at some of the key findings.

The value of advertising

Americans were most likely to say advertising provides value (85 per cent) compared to Canadians (79 per cent).

However, when Quebec is separated from the rest of the Canadian provinces we see an interesting shift.

Eighty three per cent of Canadians outside Quebec said that advertising provides value, just slightly less that their Americans counterparts.

Meanwhile the numbers in Quebec are much lower; just sixty seven per cent of Quebecers said advertising provides value.

Do ads shape or mirror the values of our society?

When asked to say whether they believe that advertising shapes the values of society or mirrors the values of society, a majority of Canadians (52 per cent) said that advertising shapes the values of society, compared to just 36 per cent of Americans.

The number of Canadians and Americans who said advertising mirrors the values of society was closer (30 per cent compared to 35 per cent) and Americans were more likely to respond that they didn't know (29 per cent versus 19 per cent for Canadians).

Impressions around advertisements

Oddly enough, while Americans are more likely to have a favourable impression of advertising, believe it is "acceptable", and say it helps them make decisions as consumers, Canadians are more likely to find advertising truthful overall and not offensive.

Here is a breakdown of the numbers on how Canadians and American view ads they see or hear.

Belief about advertising Canadians Americans
Believe advertising is helpful in making decisions as a consumer 63 per cent 80 per cent
Have a somewhat or very favourable view of advertising 73 per cent 84 per cent
Believe advertising is "acceptable" (truthful, accurate, not misleading and not offensive) 57 per cent 75 per cent
Believe advertising is not offensive 69 per cent 54 per cent
Believe advertising is truthful 50 per cent 44 per cent
Believe advertising is accurate 49 per cent 44 per cent
Believe advertising is not misleading 45 per cent 37 per cent

The ASC 2011 Survey report explains some of these differences:

"Americans tend to look at advertising differently from Canadians, seeing it more as entertainment and less impactful on societal values."

"As a result, even though Americans are less likely than Canadians to think the ads they see or hear are truthful and more likely to be offensive, overall they find advertising content more acceptable than Canadians."

Impressions differ among men, women

The survey also found difference in how men and women perceive ads.

Women are more likely than men to have a favourable impression of advertising (78 per cent versus 69 per cent) and place much more importance on having advertising standards.

Men, on the other hand, are somewhat less likely than women to say that advertising is offensive.

Canadians will stop buying if ads offend

While Canadians are more likely to say that advertising is truthful, almost all Canadians (89 per cent) say they are also willing to vote with their wallet if their standards of "acceptability" are not met. This is particularly true for older Canadians.

Very or somewhat likely to stop purchasing
a product if the ad is unacceptable
18-34   81 per cent
35-49   90 per cent
50-64   92 per cent
65+   93 per cent

The most common reason for ads to be deemed unacceptable is that the ads are "misleading, exaggerate product virtues, deceptive, unrealistic" (32 per cent).

Other reasons given, in order of rankings:

  • Stereotypes, sexist, sensational, degrading, vulgar, offensive (22 per cent)
  • Stupid, makes people look dumb, insults our intelligence (12 per cent)
  • Too loud, poorly made (3 per cent)
  • Repetitive, ads play too often, too many (2 per cent)
  • Uses or targets children inappropriately (2 per cent)
  • Promotes consumerism, greed (2 per cent)

The media may affect the message

Ads in newspapers were much more likely to be viewed as truthful compared to ads online, with other media falling in between.

Newspapers   74 per cent
Out of home (billboards, etc.)   69 per cent
Radio   69 per cent
Magazines   65 per cent
TV 64 per cent
Online   47 per cent

It's important to note that no differentiation was made among the type of advertising sources online, where the location and legitimacy of sites vary widely. Nor did the survey look at how different online advertising formats are viewed.

When asked what research ASC will do in this area in the future, Linda Nagel, President and CEO of ASC responded:

"This is certainly an area that warrants future study and we will consider this in our planning for a future wave of research. There are certainly distinctions to be made and this is important to do."

Support for advertising standards

When it comes to standards, truthfulness trumps offensiveness in the eyes of Canadians.

The vast majority of Canadians support advertising standards, with the most important elements being:

  • Truthfulness (93 per cent);
  • Accuracy (92 per cent);
  • Making sure the ad is not misleading (92 per cent);
  • Ensuring the ad is fair (87 per cent); and
  • Making sure the ad is not offensive (75 per cent).

When asked how much responsibility different stakeholders should have in ensuring that there are standards in advertising and that those standards are met, Canadians placed the greatest onus of responsibility on companies (73 per cent), followed by their advertising agencies (69 per cent) and government (63 per cent).

Advertising channels like TV and radio stations were assigned 59 per cent of the responsibility while independent bodies were ranked at 49 per cent.

Interestingly, Canadians only felt that consumers should assume 38 per cent of  the responsibility for ensuring that there are standards in advertising and that those standards are met.

Further reading

Click here to view the full ASC 2011 Survey results.

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