Comparative Advertising

The ad police in Canada is called ASC, short for Advertising Standards Canada. The ASC accepts and responds to consumer complaints about advertising, the ads are reviewed and if found in violation of the code, the advertisers are asked to remove their ad.

One such form of ASC violation is comparative advertisement, which occurs quite often in the advertising world. Comparative advertising occurs when an advert is found guilty of comparing its product or service in an unfair manner to another product or service in order to discredit or disparage that other product and win over customers.

This amusing ad is in violation of the comparative advertising clause because it’s promoting Pepsi while featuring Coca Cola with the main theme of the ad in favour of Pepsi while disparaging the Coca Cola drink. Now this ad might have been produced in the US, in which case different advertising rules would apply but this ad highlights the violation made against the ASC.


This next ad, once again is a BURGER KING advertisement featuring McDonalds. The sole purpose of the advertisement is to discredit McDonalds and endorse BURGER KING by making it appear as the most favoured fast food chain, even among competitors. The advertisement doesn’t provide any promotional information about itself, rather it focuses on dishonouring its competitor.

Comparative advertising is allowed, within limits and regulations in places like the UK, which is regulated by the EU, as well as the United States of America and Australia. The effectiveness of comparative advertising is not so clear. Do they allow for more than humour and entertainment? Can they actually succeed in swaying the general opinion in favour of the brand it’s endorsing?

These are questions I ask you, what are your thoughts on the matter?


Sex and Suicide


Here is another ad I found online that has the potential to violate a clause of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

        Clause 10 states that:

“Advertisements must not without reason, justifiable on educational or social grounds, display a disregard for safety by depicting situations that might reasonably be interpreted as encouraging unsafe or dangerous practices, or acts.”

Hmm… this ad does seem to encourage some unsafe behavior don’t you think? First, let’s look at the language. By using the pronoun ‘you’, the ad is directly addressing the consumer. There is nothing vague about that. This makes you part of the conversation; a key participant in the dialogue. The ‘you’ intentionally tries to make you feel like you are personally addressed – not just a mere bystander overhearing the conversation. This ‘you’ is creating a reality, enabling you to experience the unreal as real. This is a dangerous game if the ad contains dangerous language.

 Another word that seems to encourage unsafe behavior is the word should. Defined in Oxford Dictionary online, the word should “indicates obligation,” or “an expected state” or “what is probable.” Should is used to “give advice” and “expresses a request.” Gibson is requesting and expecting me to commit suicide if I can’t get laid? How rude!

It is blatantly obvious that this is a joke. Of course no advertisement would really suggest a person to take his or her life if he or she doesn’t engage in sexual activity after purchasing the product. But it doesn’t take away the fact that it is encouraging a dangerous act. This is completely and utterly inappropriate. There is no ambiguity in ‘commit suicide’. This is an asserted statement. If this advertiser was smart, he or she would have made an implicit claim, making it easier to disregard or cancel.

What about those people who abstain from sex in general? Should they kill themselves too? The ad implies that if you are not having sex, life is not worth living. Gibson insinuates that purchasing a guitar is a sure ticket to winning the fornication lottery. And if this can’t help you – nothing will, may as well die. Sorry Gibson, but not everyone wants to bang a musician.



Deception, or Just Bending the Rules?

While casually browsing through a magazine, this ad from Dove caught my attention:


Now let’s play a little game. Can you spot the two asterisks in the text above? How about the fine print that these asterisks are referring to? Look closely; they’re hard to spot.  This can be a tricky business.  A reader whose attention is not focused or who has not expended the effort to engage their mental faculties might miss them altogether. If you couldn’t see them, I don’t blame you. The picture quality of this ad isn’t exactly ideal, and even when staring at the original advertisement, it took me a moment to find them.  The caption at the bottom reads: “This test paper shows how Dove is different. After a few minutes, soap strips the paper similar to how it strips your skin’s moisture*. With ¼ moisturizing cream, Dove doesn’t strip your skin like soap can.” The fine print being referenced is vertically typed at the bottom left corner of the advertisement. It reads, “over time with regular use.” After reading the fine print, I began to wonder whether there were elements of deception in this ad, or if I was just being hyper vigilant. I decided to investigate further.

First of all, let me share exactly what my problem is with this ad and its fine print. The predominant text in this ad reads, “soap can strip the skin’s moisture*” and “after a few minutes, soap strips the paper similar to how it strips your skin’s moisture*.” It seems to me as though this ad is implying that this effect of moisture stripping is almost instantaneous (for both the paper and your skin). Then when I read the fine print (“over time with regular use”) my perspective completely changed. The second asterisked sentence above begins by stating: after a few minutes. Was I the only one who didn’t realize that this time frame only applies to the first part of the sentence? Also, who knows what is meant by over time with regular use? They certainly don’t specify. Does over time mean a week? A month? A year? How about regular use? Does that mean once a week? Once a day? Twice a day? Based on the evidence presented in the ad alone, it doesn’t seem as though this ad is drawing off of scientific evidence. So where is this data coming from?

I decided to conduct my own informal survey in order to discover whether I was the only one who thought this ad was deceptive. I randomly selected 10 people (out of a group of coworkers, friends and family) and showed them this ad. I asked these participants to pay close attention to the asterisked information. After they were done reading, I asked whether they found this ad deceptive; 4 out of 10 said yes. This was not the overwhelming support that I had hoped for, but at least a small portion of people agreed with me.

If I had to specify exactly which clause of Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) this ad contravenes, I would say Clause 1 Accuracy and Clarity:

(a) Advertisements must not contain inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations, either direct or implied, with regard to any identified or identifiable product(s) or service(s).

(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.

In this case, the issues with this ad seem to be fairly subjective, so it is unlikely that it would be withdrawn from circulation. Either way, it is an excellent practice to look out for deceptive advertising.

Another thing to watch out for is the feeling of truthiness. Truthiness is a feeling you get, rather than a rational conclusion you draw based on ample evidence that you have carefully processed. If you don’t devote enough time to examine this ad, you might see it and think, “Oh, this looks like results from a scientific experiment that shows that Dove is better. Next time I go to buy soap, I’ll pick up some Dove.” But really this is just a feeling based on the appearance of impressive evidence in the ad. It doesn’t actually say anything about scientific evidence, or something being scientifically proven. Additionally, in this brief glance in which the feeling of truthiness is accepted, the asterisks might have been overlooked, and therefore a chunk of information is missing. Whether the deception is subtle or blatantly obvious, your mind can be fooled, especially if you are not paying attention and rationally processing all of the information you are presented with.


Chatelaine (March 2013)