Canadian complaints about advertising up nearly 40%

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TORONTO--A TV ad showing a shirtless man chained to a stove while is wife goes to work sparked complaints to Canada's ad regulator last year, highlighting consumer concerns over so-called reverse sexism.

In its newly released 1998 report, Advertising Standards Canada says it last year fielded 828 consumer complaints about 658 advertisements.

One developing trend: complaints over ads that sexually objectify men.

"This is the second year in a row we've noticed that," says Linda Nagel, Advertising Standards Canada's president and CEO.

National department store retailer Eaton's didn't rerun its "Chained" ad following the complaints but told Advertising Standards the spot was meant to use humor to break gender myths.

Agency Roche Macaulay & Partners, Toronto, developed the ad as part of its larger "Times have Changed" repositioning campaign for the retailer, which has been struggling to remake itself after an earlier brush with bankruptcy.

"It was very much about the strategy: telling people that Eaton's has changed," agency VP Paula Howell says of the chained-man spot.

New ads for Eaton's are in the works for later this year but Ms. Howell promises the complaints and the Advertising Standards ruling haven't caused the agency to "sanitize or sterilize" its approach. "Our goal is to do great work that works," she says.

Canadians seem to be complaining more often "about advertising in general," says Ms. Nagel, rather than about how an ad might have broken the rules. "There's a sense of `I don't like this billboard' or `I don't like seeing this on the subway,'" she says.

The total number of complaints was up 38% from the 1997 total. Most of the complaints concerned TV ads, at 45%. Newspaper ads triggered 17% of the complaints; magazine 8%; outdoor ads, 6%; and radio and transit ads, 3% each.

About two-thirds of the ads met the criteria for further evaluation under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, or the Gender Portrayal Guidelines. However, the percentage of complaints actually upheld, where advertisers were advised by the ASC to change the offending parts or simply remove them from media, was down to 17% of the total number of complaints, versus 22% upheld in 1997. The upheld complaints concerned 77 different ads.

Copyright April 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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