Until now, all advertisements published in Singapore had to adhere to the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, administered by the (ASAS). The Code aimed to promote a high standard of ethics in advertising.

Although the Code was not legally enforceable, ASAS had the power to request offending marketers to amend or withdraw any advertisement contrary to the Code. ASAS could also impose sanctions, such as withholding advertising space or withdrawing trading privileges from offending marketers. In extreme cases of non-compliance, marketers faced serious adverse publicity.

Introducing the Guidelines

While the Code served the industry well, it did not address new advertising issues arising from online marketing on digital platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, amongst others.

After various consultations with social media agencies, public agencies, multinational companies and members of the public, ASAS finally issued its Guidelines on Interaction Marketing Communication & Social Media on 29 August 2016. Marketers must adhere to the Guidelines from 29 September 2016. We offer an overview of the Guidelines below.

What are the standards provided in the Guidelines?

The Guidelines set out the following standards of how marketers should conduct online marketing on digital platforms. For further details, please see here.

  1. Identification of commercial messages

All marketing communication must be distinguished from editorial or personal opinions. Where there is a relationship between the endorser and the marketer of a product that may affect the credibility of the endorsement, disclosures must be provided. The marketer must not claim that the product has been endorsed by someone when it has not.

  1. Disclosures

Disclosures should be made simple and straightforward to consumers. Disclosures must also be prominent. For example, they should be in a colour that differs from that of the background to highlight the disclosure and must feature early on, so that the consumer can see the disclosure with minimal scrolling.

  1. Clarity of the offer and conditions

Marketers are required to clearly indicate to consumers when they will be charged a fee for services offered. Warnings must be provided before the marketer charges the fee. Consumers should be given sufficient opportunity to review the accuracy of any input data before completion of the transaction.

  1. Use of social engagement tools

Marketers cannot boost the user engagement of a website, for instance the number of likes on Facebook, through fraudulent means. Examples of fraudulent means include the purchase of bulk “likes” and creation of fake accounts.

  1. Digital marketing communication and children

Where online marketing is aimed at children of a certain age group, the content of the advertisement must be appropriate for such children. Further, personal information regarding children that are identifiable should be only disclosed upon receiving consent from the parent or legal guardian.

  1. Respect for consumers, competitors, public groups and review sites

Marketers should update their internal social media policies to make certain that consumers are not subjected to marketing myths or false campaigns.

How will the Guidelines change the scene?

In 2015, ASAS received multiple complaints about advertisements on digital platforms. Such complaints may undermine consumers’ opinion about the trustworthiness of online marketing on digital platforms. The Guidelines serve as a positive step towards enhancing consumer confidence of advertisements and endorsements on digital platforms. The Guidelines also serve as timely reminder to marketers that the high standard of ethics applies not only to advertisements on traditional platforms, but also to that on digital platforms.

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