MDA tells Mediacorp to clearly distinguish ads from entertainment

The world between entertainment and advertising is blurring – especially given the rise of content marketing. Many broadcasters are now partnering up with brands to create content that toggle the line between the two. MDA's various programme advisory committees have taken notice of this and said that clearer distinction needs to be made between the two worlds.

The committees, which were set up by the MDA to provide feedback on broadcast programmes in Singapore’s four official languages, called out local broadcaster Mediacorp and asked the company to make brand advertorials more distinct from its current list of programmes. They noted that local programmes such as Channel 5’s Tanglin and Channel 8’s Life Fear Not contained segments which were advertorial in nature.

In the case of Tanglin, MDA’s Committees found the transition from the last scene of the programme to the advertorial segment to be too seamless, and this was considered misleading to viewers. It was brought to the MDA committee’s attention that advertorials were inserted just before the programme’s final credits and were also filmed on the sets of the respective programmes. Moreover it featured artists from the same dramas were advocating the benefits of the sponsored products.

While committees had no objections to the use of a programme’s artistes and sets in advertorial segments, they were of the view that such segments should be clearly distinguishable from the rest of the programme.

MDA's committees and its committee advised Mediacorp to use "slides" or "graphics" to inform viewers that they were watching an advertising segment so as to keep with the general principles in MDA’s TV Advertising Code.

A spokesperson from Mediacorp said it is “continually creating new ways of storytelling”.

“There’s a lot of content out there but clearly, local productions, through improved quality, remain close to the hearts of our audiences. We welcome the feedback as we work at improving our content and providing great options to engage our audiences on multiple platforms,” she added.

Mediacorp’s radio stations were also flagged for airing advertisements promoting health supplements and beauty products. Minority radio stations Warna and Oli received complaints from the public over the focus on product testimonials touting the product’s effectiveness.

This could then lead to listeners being unable to recognise the need to seek professional help for their medical conditions, said the report. These advertorials were prolonged and predominantly aired during the late morning and early afternoon, making them accessible to retirees and homemakers - who were the target audience for these products.

A spokesperson from Mediacorp said the company “has addressed the oversights with MDA and taken action to ensure that all advertising is clearly presented as commercial content, distinct from programme content.”

Racy content on SPH Radio station

Competitors over at SPH Radio didn’t get off the hook easily either. Towards the end-2015, MDA received public feedback that some of the contest segments on SPH Radio’s One FM 91.3 related to the FIA Formula 1 World Championship contained sexual references.

Current radio programme code mandates that advertisements containing sexually explicit dialogue, sexually suggestive words and sounds and sexual innuendoes should not go on air. According to the report, the segments featured a woman speaking to a race driver using phrases such as, “If you buy me enough drinks, maybe I will show you my down under”.

These were deliberately scripted to be crude, explicit and sexually suggestive. As a result, the broadcaster was also issued a warning for the breach of MDA’s guidelines.

Most recently the station also hired daring duo Glenn Ong and the Flying Dutchman to grow its listener base. Marketing has reached out to SPH for comment.

Expedia warned for too much use of Singlish

Expedia was also mentioned in the report for the excessive use of Singlish and the dialect phrase “wah lao” in one of its commercials which was found by some members of the public to be crude and inappropriate for broadcast.

The spot featured influencer Nina Tan and Ah Boys to Men star Wang Weiliang talking about Expedia’s travel deals on the way to the airport, especially the discounts reaped from booking a flight and hotel together. According to the report, when consulted, a sizeable proportion of members of the public found the use of Singlish in the advertisement excessive.

Current MDA language guidelines call for all advertisements to maintain a good standard of language, for example, Singlish and ungrammatical English should not be used. Vulgar and crude language is also prohibited in their presentation. Advertisements containing dialect are not to be broadcast, unless approved by the authority.

Expedia was unable to comment on Marketing’s queries at the time of writing.

An improvement in quality of content

Overall however, the committees found from its last report in 2009, the quality of local content has improved.

Dramas were found to be harder-hitting with impactful stories and were lauded for being well-scripted and exploring pertinent themes such as active aging.  Specifically, several dramas reflected themes of cross-cultural understanding and social integration, issues which members had recommended in the previous report. SG50 documentaries, current affairs and other programmes were also praised for high research values and important messages conveyed about society.

Better cinematography and editing techniques further boosted the programmes’ engagement value.

“New formats attempted to strike a balance between information and entertainment which generally managed to discuss issues in a more relatable way,” said the report. Moreover, integrating news with current affairs, fresh concepts presented information through different perspectives, enlisting the use of case studies and discussions to bring issues to life.

Read also: MCI launches new info-educational drama series