Currently, all advertisements that are published in Singapore have to comply with the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (“Code”). Administered by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (“ASAS”), the Code seeks to promote a high standard of ethics in advertising.

The Code has no force of law, and the ASAS relies largely on a system of guidance and voluntary compliance to facilitate observance of the Code, although it is empowered to ask an advertiser or advertising agency to amend or withdraw any advertisement that it deems to be contrary to the Code, and to ask media owners to support its decisions by applying sanctions on offenders.

While the Code has served the industry well, it was last updated in 2008 and has thus not kept pace with the more recent technological developments and issues in advertising.

To address this, ASAS has recently – at the end of last year – drawn up a draft Digital and Social Media Advertising Guidelines (“Guidelines”) to address these issues, and to establish the standards of ethical conduct for advertisements on digital platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter etc. A public consultation exercise to solicit feedback on the draft Guidelines has just ended, and the Guidelines are expected to be finalised and incorporated into the Code later this year.

What are the themes of the Guidelines?

The Guidelines were drafted with reference to similar advertising codes established in Australia and the United Kingdom, and those set by social media channels, and set out the following key standards:

  • Identification as commercial messages: All marketing communications must be identified as such and distinguished from personal opinion. For example, paid endorsements should be acknowledged as such and not appear as impartial Tweets on Twitter. Further, the writer’s vested interests, such as an existing commercial relationship with the company, should be disclosed in the post.
  • Unsolicited individually addressed digital marketing communication: Individually addressed unsolicited marketing communication via digital interactive media should only be conducted where there are reasonable grounds to believe the consumer has interest in the subject matter.
  • Digital marketing communications and children: Digital marketing communication directed at children should be appropriate for that age group. Moreover, websites for age-restricted products or services should include measures to prevent minors from accessing such websites.
  • Disclosures: Disclosures should be clear and unequivocal. They should be placed near the claim it qualifies and prominently displayed.
  • Like-gating and like-farming: Marketers must not induce consumers to like, share or use social plug-ins so as to give the impression that the contents are more popular than they really are.

How are the Guidelines are expected to change the scene?

The incorporation of the Guidelines into the Code will serve as a timely reminder to advertisers that the same standards of decency, honesty and truthfulness apply to digital advertisements as it does to advertisements on traditional media, and will, hopefully, serve to enhance the protection of consumers who deal through digital platforms.

By Oh Pin-Ping

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