Advertising oversight mechanism

Advertising campaigns with budgets over $500,000 are required to undergo a mandatory non-partisan review. Departments may also choose to voluntarily submit campaigns with smaller budgets for review.

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Non-partisan review criteria

Reviews are conducted by Ad Standards, a not-for-profit organization that administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and has extensive experience reviewing advertising against legislative and regulatory requirements.

Ad Standards reviews creative materials for government advertising campaigns against established criteria for non-partisan communications, which is defined as follows:

  • objective, factual, and explanatory
  • free from political party slogans, images, identifiers, bias, designation or affiliation
  • the primary colour associated with the governing party is not used in a dominant way, unless an item is commonly depicted in that colour
  • devoid of any name, voice or image of a minister, member of Parliament or senator

The review process

The review process is initiated when a request is made by a department. Steps in the process take place as follows:

  1. Departments submit a completed Advertising review submission and evaluation form (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) along with creative materials to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC)
  2. PSPC coordinates the review process with Ad Standards on behalf of departments
  3. Ad Standards completes an initial review and provides determinations to PSPC before significant investments are made to the development of campaign materials
  4. Ad Standards completes a final review of all English and French advertisements prior to the broadcast, display or publication of the advertisements to the public
  5. Review results and decisions are published on Canada.ca

Roles and responsibilities of departments, TBS, PSPC and Ad Standards are detailed in the Terms of Reference: Ad Standards Review of Non-Partisan Advertising for the Government of Canada.

Two-stage review

To optimize efficiency and preserve the integrity of the two distinct stages of the process, that is, the initial and final reviews, departments’ plans and production schedules need to clearly identify and distinguish between:

  • ad creatives that must be submitted pre-production
  • ad creatives for which reviews can be expedited 

Departments should always ensure that advertising creatives are reviewed internally against the definition and criteria for non-partisan communications before submitting them to Ad Standards.

Early initial review of script/storyboard

Advertising creatives that have significant production costs or time (filming, hired talent, studio time, focus testing, etc.), need to be submitted in English or French for an initial non-partisan review prior to incurring production costs.

This allows departments to make any changes required as a result of the non-partisan review without incurring:

  • additional production costs to correct problems identified in the review
  • unforeseen delays in planning, production, publishing or broadcasting
  • avoidable costs, such as cancellation penalties from media outlets or paying for unused advertising space or time, etc.

Expedited reviews

Advertising creatives with low production costs or ones that can be modified without incurring significant costs or delays can be submitted to Ad Standards for an expedited non-partisan review. To do so, the head of communications attests through the Advertising review submission and evaluation form (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) that the creatives will not be modified once they pass the initial review stage. This allows the creatives to automatically advance to the final review stage.

Exclusions

Announcements of a purely administrative or operational nature are excluded from the review process. Some examples include:

  • public hearings, employment offers, notices of public consultation, requests for tenders or changes to office business hours
  • messages to the public regarding urgent matters affecting public health and safety or the environment
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