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Rogers Challenges Truth in Advertising, Citing Civil Rights

Rogers Challenges Truth in Advertising, Citing Civil Rights

Canadian communications giant, Rogers, is going to court this summer in hopes of overturning a federal “truth in advertising” law, part of the Competition Act. Specifically, Rogers is challenging a section of the law requiring “adequate and proper” testing of its products before advertising claims on the efficacy of their performance can be made. Rogers is citing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, claiming that the federal law violates the right of freedom of expression.

The federal law recently upped the stakes for offenders, increasing the first-time offence penalty from $250 thousand to $10 million in 2010 (it’s a penalty rather than a fine, since the law is civil and not criminal). In 2011, Bell Canada had to pay the $10 million penalty for misleading customers as to the true cost of their various communications services in advertising campaigns. Of course Rogers is accused of violating the act as well, when the Competition Bureau brought a case in late 2010 with regard to a recent campaign for their discount cellular phone service, Chatr.

The bureau investigated claims made by Rogers that their service had “fewer dropped calls than newer wireless carriers,” and that their customers have “no worries about dropped calls.” After reviewing technical data from multiple sources, Rogers service turned out to be no more reliable than its competition. Rogers’ new constitutional argument is the latest move in their ongoing battle against the bureau and this particular suit.

Of course it would be a cell phone company that does this. Remember Verizon and AT&T’s cell phone coverage battles of the last couple of years? It started with Verizon showing side-by-side coverage maps of their own nationwide coverage compared to AT&T’s. Then AT&T started their own ad campaigns where their coverage maps turned out to be much more solidly filled in than Verizon’s. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was sitting there confused as each company told a different story and held up contradictory data.

Who was lying? The solution turned out to be in the fine print. The reason each company had different coverage maps in their own campaigns is they were each focusing on different kinds of specific coverage. Verizon had the best 3G coverage, while AT&T was better with a different kind of coverage. Both companies did their best to mislead consumers, by focusing on the big maps and letting it slip that they represented data for very specific services rather than general network performance.

The moral of the story is that companies are out to make money, and advertising is a tool designed to separate you from that money. Consumers have a civil right not to be overtly lied to, but companies will constantly push the boundaries if they think they can get away with it. Selective statistics, graphs and charts are very useful tools to that end, since they imply that an advertisement has educational goals rather than propagandizing ones. They make a consumer think they are learning something when they are really being convinced of something.

Big surprise that Rogers feels that being legally impelled to tell the truth is a major constraint on its business plan. Or maybe it’s just that the they really, really don’t want to fork over that money.

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Image credit: Rogers Communications

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10:11AM PST on Feb 2, 2012

Of course their advertising should adhere to the facts. However, we do seem to do a somewhat decent job of ensuring that corporations don't lie to us in advertising their goods and services.

But what about political advertising? Why does it seem that there are no rules about adhering to the truth in political advertising?

5:17AM PST on Feb 2, 2012


11:02PM PST on Jan 31, 2012

How utterly Republican of them.

10:58PM PST on Jan 31, 2012

Lying and misleading your customers is part of the rogers mission statement. It's the way they've always done business and will continue to do business. They lied to and mislead their cable customers when they had cable in western Canada and had to pay dearly for it (don't take my word for it, it's spelled our clearly in the court records). They only have cell in the west now and will never see another penny of my money. I would rather do business with someone I suspect may be misleading me than give a single cent to one who I know, knowingly, cheated me.

5:44PM PST on Jan 31, 2012

Incredible... the right to lie to potential customers? Buyers beware!

3:43PM PST on Jan 31, 2012

Who knew there was a civil right to lie? Just think, it could negate all of the catch-all 'conspiracy' charges frequently leveled by the Department of PreCrime when an actual crime has not been committed.

1:00PM PST on Jan 31, 2012

They need one of those laws here.

9:28AM PST on Jan 31, 2012

Lying to the public, is NOT a freedom of speech issue. It's a FRAUD issue & demanding the ability to spread fraud, is NEVER acceptable.

At least it's not up here in Canada where we have laws regulating our airwaves. And HOPEFULLY will continue to maintain despite the Harper dicktatorship.

8:14AM PST on Jan 31, 2012


8:05AM PST on Jan 31, 2012

What a shock - he wants the "right" to lie. I'd love to see some truth in advertising and have it enforced. I'm afraid it's tough to do - witness the labeling we now require and some of the shenanigans companies go through to twist around the "truth". I do hope they slap him down, though.

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