2012-01-30 "Rogers Challenges Truth in Advertising, Citing Civil Rights" by Joel Boyce
Canadian communications giant, Rogers, is going to court this summer in hopes of overturning a federal “truth in advertising” law [http://www.care2.com/causes/first-major-ad-taken-down-for-too-much-photoshopping.html], 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 [http://flowingdata.com/2009/11/24/verizon-vs-att-battle-of-the-coverage-maps/]? 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.