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Canadian advertising complaints up 51 per cent in 2011, fueled by social media

By CO Staff @canadaone |

The numbers are in: Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) received 1809 consumer complaints in 2011, which was 51 per cent higher than complaints received in 2010.

By category, retail advertising saw the highest number of complaints, with a total of 252 complaints received. In all ASC received complaints for 1153 ads in 2011 and upheld 146 complaints for approximately 83 advertisements.

Last year was the first time ASC received more complaints about inaccurate or misleading ads than complaints about offensive or otherwise unacceptable adverising.

Half of all complaints in 2011 related to allegations of inaccurate or misleading ads.

"In today's economic climate, consumers are most concerned about getting value for their money, good deals and low prices," stated Janet Feasby, Vice President, Standards. "It's not surprising that retail advertising was our highest complaint category last year," noted Feasby.

The ASC report noted that many complaints in 2011 related to:

  • Products advertised with attractive sale prices that were not in stock when consumers tried to buy them;
  • Ads that had inaccurate prices and discounts; and
  • Exaggerated claims that the adveriser could not substantiate.

Social media also played a role in the surge of complaints last year.

The ASC report, 2011 Year in Review, notes that the surge of complaints seen in 2011 was connected to several high profile advertisements that generated a high volume of comments, complaints and petitions through social media websites.

More complaints were upheld in 2011 compared to the previous year, when 84 complaints related to 58 ads were upheld.

The majority of complaint investigations fell into two of four possible categories within the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code). Complaints that were investigated related to:

  • Accuracy, clarity and price claims: 604 complaints;
  • Unacceptable deceptions and portrayals: 553 complaints;
  • Safety: 31 complaints; and
  • Advertising to children: 12 complaints.

The greatest number of complaints related to retail (252) and service (242) categories, followed by food (149).

The number of complaints upheld were also highest in the retail (67) and service (31) categories.

Interestingly, in the top ten of 16 categories, complaints about media advertisements ranked second for the percentage of complaints upheld by category.


# of


Retail 252 27%
Media 49 16%
Government/Not-for-Profit 82 15%
Service 242 13%
Recreation & Entertainment 59 10%
Automotive 80 6%
Food 149 6%
Alcoholic Beverages 121 0%
Personal & Proprietary 63 0%
Finance 42 0%

With both federal and several provincial elections in 2011, ASC received many complaints about election advertising. However, these complaints were not investigated as this category of advertising is exempted from the Code.

An interesting trend in advertising complaints in 2011 related to the emerging popularity of daily deal offers online.

ASC heard from consumers who were concerned about both the accuracy of claims as well as the actual availability of a deal.

Because the deal site actually handles the transaction, the deal site is considered to be the advertiser and must be prepared to substantiate claims related to accuracy, clarity and price.

"It may not be sufficient to rely on assurances from the involved retailer or service provider that the advertised claims can be supported," noted the ASC report.


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