Truth in Advertising

I’ll be honest. I don’t watch a great deal of television. In fact I hardly turn the set on and the two hours I sat watching the Leaders’ Debate broke my evening watching record, for the year. What I do see on television is generally on those distracting screens which seem to predominate most bars these days. 
Last night after a film and poetry event in Regina, a few of us including the poets, went across the street for a beer. What drew my attention away from the conversation were the bright red and blue Conservative commercials attacking the Liberal platform and their leader, Michael Ignatieff. I want to make this clear. I am not a Liberal ( Liberal leaning readers of this blog probably just breathed a sign of relief) Even without the sound these ads were offensive.  

Now I do know that as hard as it seems for some of us to believe it, we do have a Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and I thought “Surely this must be over the line” So I looked. 

Under the heading Truth. Fairness. Accuracy advertizing standards says the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards is the criteria for acceptable standards for advertizing in Canada.

They apparently set the criteria for truthfulness, accuracy and fairness. Things were looking up. Perhaps I'd file a complaint.

Now I used to think that truth was truth – end of story, but I have come to understand that when it comes to telling stories, as the country and western song says “There are three sides to every story, yours, mine and the cold hard truth.”  Let me tell you. In political advertising, the cold, hard truth is hard to find.

Never the less I thought it might be a good time to bring, at least a few of the 14 clauses in the code to Stephen Harper’s attention because it seemed to me that the ads I saw broke quite a few of the rules.

Clause #1 under the heading Accuracy and Clarity says:

(a) Advertisements must not contain inaccurate or deceptive claims, statements, illustrations or representations, either direct or implied, with regard to a product or service. In assessing the truthfulness and accuracy of a message, the concern is not with the intent of the sender or precise legality of the presentation. Rather, the focus is on the message as received or perceived, i.e. the general impression conveyed by the advertisement.

(b) Advertisements must not omit relevant information in a manner that, in the result, is deceptive.

(c) All pertinent details of an advertised offer must be clearly and understandably stated.

(d) Disclaimers and asterisked or footnoted information must not contradict more prominent aspects of the message and should be located and presented in such a manner as to be clearly visible and/or audible.

(e) Both in principle and practice, all advertising claims and representations must be supportable. If the support on which an advertised claim or representation depends is test or survey data, such data must be reasonably competent and reliable, reflecting accepted principles of research design and execution that characterize the current state of the art. At the same time, however, such research should be economically and technically feasible, with due recognition of the various costs of doing business.

(f) The entity that is the advertiser in an advocacy advertisement must be clearly identified as the advertiser in either or both the audio or video portion of the advocacy advertisement.

Then clause #6, under Comparative Advertising it suggests:

Advertisements must not, unfairly, discredit, disparage or attack other products, services, advertisements or companies, or exaggerate the nature or importance of competitive differences.

And finally under #14, Superstitions and Fears:

Advertisements must not exploit superstitions or play upon fears to mislead the consumer.

You have seen these ads. What do you think?

So would or could the Advertizing Standards step in? 

Looking a little deeper you'll find that bottom line is that the code is not the law, as we might expect. Like so much Tory bafflegab the code is touted as “...the cornerstone of advertising self-regulation in Canada.”

Self regulation is no regulation. 

That is when I gave up.

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