An Interview with Jani Yates, President & CEO of Ad Standards – A Retrospective and Look Ahead

March 5, 2018
By Jennifer McKenzie

Ad Standards is Canada’s national, independent, not-for-profit advertising self-regulatory body. It administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which is a 14 clause code that forms the basis for the review and adjudication of both consumer complaints and advertising disputes among competitors. 

In addition, Ad Standards’ Clearance Services provides fee-based advertising review to ensure regulatory compliance for advertising in the following regulated categories: children’s advertising, food and non-alcoholic beverages, alcoholic beverages, consumer drugs, cosmetics and since January 2018, medical devices.

Jani Yates became President and Chief Executive Officer of Ad Standards in May 2016. Prior to joining Ad Standards, Jani served as President of the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA), and has held senior positions with communication agencies. Jani is currently on the ACTRA Fraternal Benefits Society’s Board of Governors and sits on several of industry advisory boards.

Jani is already leaving her mark. On August 1, 2017, as part of a large-scale rebranding, the organization’s name changed from “Advertising Standards Canada” to “Ad Standards”, a public awareness campaign on “truth in advertising” was launched, and the website was updated (it looks great and functions really well!). The website is also currently undergoing a second phase of upgrades. We connected with Jani to ask her about the past 20 months and the year ahead.

You’ve been at Ad Standards since May 2016. How would you describe your first 20 months at Ad Standards? What is the biggest change you’ve influenced since you’ve come on board / what was your priority since joining / did you encounter any surprises? 

A. Having been on the Ad Standards board for numerous years, I had a solid background in what Ad Standards delivers as Canada’s self-regulatory organization (SRO). Having said that, I am very fortunate that Ad Standards employees are experts in their fields, which gave me time to absorb and observe. I walked into an excellent organization that had a solid foundation, which was the ideal platform to strategically set a plan for the future.

I set my sights on creating a board dream team of senior industry executives that represents the market. We had our first offsite planning session which we are now delivering upon. It is wonderful to have an active, focused board dedicated to creating and maintaining confidence in advertising.

One of our priorities is to ensure self-regulation is equally effective in digital/social media. I hit the ground running by bringing together leading influencer/blogger companies to create guidelines for blogger disclosure. Our Code had disclosure parameters and now the leading companies are launching voluntary guidelines in spring 2018 which illustrate how disclosure works and what it looks like. It is inspiring when you bring together entrepreneurial, bright people who put their competitive nature aside to develop best practices for all.

The biggest surprise was probably for the employees when I arrived at work in my cycling gear! My leadership style is very collaborative and Ad Standards needs to continue to be adaptive to the ever-changing landscape of advertising that we all live and breathe.

In 2017, in addition to the rebranding, Ad Standards launched a Clearance Services Reviewed Logo for ads that clearance services have determined to be compliant with pertinent laws and/or regulations. What was the impetus for the new logo? Has it been well received by both advertisers and consumers?

A. Recent research indicated that consumers’ trust in advertising increases to 85% if consumers know the advertiser is a member of Ad Standards. 74% of consumers said they were more likely to trust an online ad if they knew it had been precleared by Ad Standards. We feel this created an opportunity to create a tool advertisers can proudly use on their ads. It’s early times but we are encouraged by its reception. There is also a complementary member logo we are just starting to promote.

Ad Standards continues to conduct impressive research for the industry. On October 25, 2017, Ad Standards released “Consumer Perspectives on Advertising: 2017” What surprised you most from the research? What should advertisers take away from the findings?

A. Each year, in addition to a battery of questions on consumer trust and usefulness of advertising, we explore a new topic. In 2017, we delved into digital advertising and broke out millennials versus general population. There is a similar belief that there should be regulations on digital advertising across all age groups, but millennials had a far greater trust – almost double – of social media. Disclosure of influencer/bloggers was also considered important, regardless of the cohort.

As of January 2018, Ad Standards is now reviewing advertising for Class II, III and IV medical devices. Have you already seen a surge in submissions? What has Ad Standards done to ready itself for the review?

A. We worked with Health Canada and industry to develop the updated guidelines. Our experienced analysts understand the regulatory framework and we have two staff review each submission to ensure consistency and accuracy. We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with Health Canada and industry. The premise for the inclusions is to protect and inform Canadian consumers.

The legalization of the adult-use of cannabis is expected to come into force this summer. Is Ad Standards assisting the Federal Government get ready for legalization? What role is Ad Standards likely to play once cannabis is legalized for adult use?

A. My crystal ball doesn’t have the answer to what role advertising will play and not for lack of trying. Perhaps we should all have bought shares last year! Seriously though, we brought the top Canadian licensed producers of cannabis together to collaboratively prepare voluntary advertising guidelines. Imagine my surprise to find myself on a fieldtrip to a cannabis producer and learning the difference between THC and CBD. That and the fact that I am even writing about this!

Ad Standards would like to offer its services in any capacity to help Health Canada ensure consumers continue to have trust in Canadian advertising that is truthful, fair and accurate.

What priorities have you set for Ad Standards in 2018? 

A. Ad Standards is one of 48 self-regulatory organizations globally. Canada is well positioned to strengthen our role by the collective sharing of information and experience. We live in a global economy and working together benefits both the industry, consumers and trust in Canadian advertising. My energy is focused on proactively shaping and supporting the industry – with your help.

I look forward to continuing our conversation.

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