NEWS

Carrying a lot of debt? Don't worry about it, say a lot of marketers

07/15/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 05:59 EDT
Is it any wonder Canadians are so deep in debt? At every turn, we're deluged with ads that urge us to recklessly spend and borrow.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian household debt hit a new record in the fourth quarter of 2014. While economists point to low interest rates as the main cause, marketers are also making it easy for shoppers to spend money they don't have.

In the following commercial for PC Financial, a husband is at a yard sale, talking on the phone to his wife and gushing about all the items he'd like to acquire.

The message is: it doesn't matter if your head's turned by a bunch of stuff you obviously don't need. Buy it anyway.

Last Christmas, electronics retailer The Source used the theme line "I Want That" in their holiday campaign. The phrase openly admitted what's behind all this buying in the absence of need or even an ability to pay.

The promotion of irresponsible spending isn't unique to Canada. In this Australian ad for Nimble Smart Little Loans, we see a young couple arguing.

Viewers appalled by the suggestion that irresponsible spending could be solved by borrowing complained about the ad to the Australian Advertising Standards Board. But it took no action, because it felt the ad was not contrary to prevailing community standards. 

Occasionally, however, such enticements to uncontrolled spending do face legal consequences. Last summer, the U.K.'s Health Lottery ran an ad that offered consumers a number of free plays if they signed up for a direct debit to pay for tickets monthly.

In this case, the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority felt the ad condoned gambling behaviour that could lead to financial harm, and pulled it off the air.

Unfortunately, we can't always rely on industry or government to protect us from manipulative ads. Which means it's up to us to stay on top of our finances and apply critical thinking to ads that would drag us deeper into debt.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio. 

MORE:cbcNews