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In the United States, where Reebok recently paid $25-million to settle charges that ads for its EasyTone sneakers were misleading, skepticism about advertising is even higher.Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

You know that joke about how you can tell when a politician is telling a lie? (Answer: When he opens his mouth.)

Well, it turns out a lot of Canadians feel that way about advertising, too. A new survey issued this week by Advertising Standards Canada, the industry-run body charged with ensuring the integrity of ads, found that only 50 per cent of Canadians believe that most ads are truthful, and only 49 per cent say they're accurate.

Being proponents of the truth, we'd like to adopt an obnoxiously superior pose. And, being in the old-fashioned business of distributing news on dead trees, it was heartening for us to hear that 78 per cent of Canadians said ads in newspapers are "somewhat or very acceptable" – making that the highest-ranking medium – while only 65 per cent felt the same way about ads on TV. But, alas, our work is also found on that newfangled Internet thing, which turns out to be the Rodney Dangerfield of ad mediums: Only 48 per cent of respondents said online ads are "somewhat or very acceptable."

The study, conducted by the Gandalf Group, proved to be a fascinating glimpse at the cultural gulf between Canada and our southern cousins. While 80 per cent of Americans say they find ads "somewhat or very helpful," only 63 per cent of Canadians agreed.

And in the United States, where some cases of fraudulent advertising – such as Reebok's recent $25-million (U.S.) settlement with the Federal Trade Commission – have gained a lot of attention, skepticism is higher: Only 37 per cent of Americans believe advertising is "not misleading. (In Canada, the number is 45 per cent.)

The study also pokes at an even deeper cultural divide: Canadians and Americans have divergent views of the relationship between advertising and society. In Canada, 52 per cent believe advertising shapes a society's values, while 30 per cent believe ads merely mirror existing values. In the U.S., however, only 36 per cent believe advertising actually shapes values, and 35 per cent believe it just mirrors values.

Which may be why Canadians are far more enthusiastic about industry regulation: 86 per cent told pollsters that having rules and regulations for advertisers is very important, while only 64 per cent of Americans said so. Or maybe it's just because Canadians are notorious fans of regulation.

The full report can be found at But, you know, since it's online, we guess we're supposed to take it with a grain of salt.

Simon Houpt


Reasons cited for ads to be deemed unacceptable:

Misleading, exaggerates virtues of product, deceptive, unrealistic: 32%

Stereotypes, sexist, sensational, degrading, vulgar, offensive: 22%

Stupid, makes people look dumb, insults our intelligence: 12%

Too loud, poorly made: 3%

"Most advertising is …"

Not offensive: 69%

Truthful: 50%

Accurate: 49%

Source: ASC's Canadian Perspectives on Advertising