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persuasion notebook

The greatest advertising sin in Canada is clear: you can offend consumers, but never lie to them.

That's the message in the latest consumer research commissioned by the ad industry's self-regulatory body, Advertising Standards Canada.

The study, conducted by research firm The Gandalf Group, surveyed 1,534 Canadians online in October.

When respondents were asked to choose what they were most concerned with, 85 per cent pointed to misleading ads versus just 15 per cent who were most concerned with ads that offended them personally.

And those standards, on what is offensive, are changing.

"Canadians' views on advertising are reflective of our changing society and how we as Canadians welcome and embrace diversity," David Herle, principal partner at The Gandalf Group, said in a statement. "A large majority of Canadians are accepting of ads that portray same-sex couples or families. This is a major shift from what we would have seen just a few years ago, and shows the inclusiveness of our society."

Here are some of the other findings:

-79 per cent: say they understand and accept the relationship between watching ads and how those advertisers pay for content people want to watch

-92 per cent: said they would probably stop buying something from a company that used misleading or offensive ads

-61 per cent: said they have stopped giving a company money because its ads were unacceptable

-85 per cent: said the following things are unacceptable: "promoting 'free' products or services that are subject to fees; not including all costs in the advertised price; using image-altering software to highlight the results that can be achieved from product use; and inaccurately depicting what a product is or can do"

-What bothers them:

-41 per cent: misleading or false advertising

-12 per cent: sexual content

-11 per cent: stereotypical depictions

-Majority: "agree that advertising is helpful in their decision making as consumers"

-Majority find the following unacceptable: "themes of violence, ageism, sexism and racism; demeaning portrayals of persons with disabilities; poor treatment of animals; disrespect for the environment; and depictions of bullying"

-Gender divide: men are less likely than women to be offended by nudity, sexuality, and unrealistic body images in ads

-47 per cent: "believe advertising shapes societal values"

-41 per cent: "believe advertising mirrors societal values"

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