Protests over digital advertising, often related to online retailers, were behind nearly 20 per cent of the complaints submitted last year to Advertising Standards Canada, according to the organization’s latest annual Ad Complaints Report.

Many of these complaints were from consumers who tried buying something online and felt the product they received didn’t match its description, or were charged in U.S. dollars after mistakenly believing a listed price was in Canadian funds – a pattern highlighted in the report, ASC’s vice president of standards, Janet Feasby, noted.

“All of the information a consumer needs to make an informed decision should be clearly there,” she told ITBusiness.ca. “They shouldn’t have to search the bottom to find a small print disclaimer, or click on another page.”

In all, the organization received 1774 complaints, 348 of them digital media-based and 210 related to retail, regarding 1135 ads.

ASC Report diagram

However, only 242 of these complaints, covering exactly 50 ads, were upheld.

ASC Report diagram 2

Janet Feasby
Janet Feasby

There were an unusually high number of complaints last year, Feasby said.

“We usually average around 1200 to 1300 complaints, and this year it was 1774,” she said. “We attribute that to a few ads generating 100-plus complaints, and it takes just a couple of those to really spike the numbers.”

Among the tech-related and digital media-driven culprits:

  • Comwave Networks Inc., which advertised “unlimited” data with its home phone plan, that the first six months were “free,” and that “all the features were free,” but imposed both usage limits and additional fees;
  • ContactsExpress.ca, which “guaranteed to have the lowest price” for contact lenses, complete with a seven-day price protection policy, but refused to match the price of a competitor based in British Columbia;
  • Dagmar Resort Ltd., which offered a package of five private ski lessons on its website that turned out to be offered on a limited, first-come-first-served basis that was not adequately conveyed by the company including the phrase “subject to availability” in its ad;
  • FragranceX, which listed its prices in Canadian dollars on its website, but charged a user in U.S. funds;
  • Wind Mobile, which advertised “Unlimited Canada/US-wide Calling” for one of its plans, but failed to specify that its network was confined to large urban centres in Canada and a few in the US – and that customers outside this network would receive additional charges of 15 cents per minute if calling the US.

You can read more reports of ads which the ASC identified as misleading in 2015 here.

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