Following the revelation that beauty products and services have received an increasing number of complaints in the past three years, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) is now looking to speak to both industry professionals and media owners on further regulating the ads.
In a press conference yesterday, Tan Sze Wee, ASAS’ chairman said that in 2013 it received 78 complaints from the industry, nearly double of that of 2012. Of those, about 70% of the ads ran on print media across both Chinese and English titles.
ASAS, therefore, is looking to engage media owners urging them to play a part in the regulatory process. Currently, the large media owners in Singapore have some guidelines in place, but they are still under pressure to get their ad revenues leading to conflict of interest, at times.
“We should also be looking at engaging the media industry and more importantly media owners because sometimes they are part of the creative process. We do know that media owners need to sustain the revenue income and we are not trying to prevent that but it is important that all the companies in the value chain act responsibly,” Tan said.
Moreover, ASAS is also opening up lines of conversation with both Building & Construction Authority and Land Transport Authorities for the regulation of quality of OOH ad placements. It will also be looking to get online publishers such as Facebook, Google and others to further regulate the ads.
Tan added that social media players are stricter as opposed to print and OOH media and take the guidelines quite seriously.
The ultimate goal for ASAS will be to target the business owners themselves to attack “the root” of the problem and encourage the industry to be self-regulated.
Are the media owners in Singapore being careless?
For media owners, at the moment there is a general guideline in place called the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice. However, complaints continue to trickle in. According to ASAS, it receives at least one customer feedback on ads everyday.
Not all are negative, but most point out to issues such as misleading headlines, unclear words in the fine print and loose usage of scientific facts to falsely accredit services.
When asked if the media owners are simply being too lax and careless in the types of ads they are now accepting to be published, Ang Peng Hwa, legal advisor of ASAS said creativity is subjective. “Because there is an element of interpretation and room for play, it is left to the media bodies on how they interpret the rule. We would prefer to leave this room as it makes the industry more dynamic. Also, publishing before vetting allows flexibility to be creative,” he said.
UPDATE: MEDIA OWNERS RESPOND
Mary Yoo, vice president of commercial operations, sales & marketing at MediaCorp said an active member of the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS,) it fully supports ASAS’s mission to ensure all advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful.
When asked if it would be taking a closer look at ads it publishes and airs, the broadcaster said: “
MediaCorp has always administered the same tight control on the vetting of all advertisements across industries and sectors. We have an advertising-vetting department to ensure scrutiny is done for all advertisements to be aired on our media platforms using the guidelines stipulated by ASAS and the guidelines from agencies such as AVA, HSA, MDA, MOH, IDA.”
Meanwhile, Leslie Fong, senior executive vice president, marketing at SPH added that the key challenge for all parties, and not just SPH, is to have objective and dispassionate evaluation. He added:
Just because someone screams that this ad or that one is misleading or false does not necessarily make it so.
Should ASAS step up?
Currently, in Singapore there is no pre-vetting of ads and ASAS takes a more reactive stance – that is to say it would only step in if consumers have repeatedly lodged a complaint about an ad.
Tan added that the Singapore market is not matured enough for ASAS to take a stronger stand such as that taken by neighbouring markets of Australia and New Zealand where financial penalties can be evoked when a company misleads the public.
However, he added that this is a direction that Singapore should be headed in. Currently, for those who do not heed the warnings by ASAS, the Consumers Association of Singapore can force them to take the ads down.
Meanwhile, repeated violation of ASAS’ warnings will result in ASAS making the name of the companies playing truant, public.
This is after the company has been asked to make amends to the ad. “If they refuse, then of course we will publish it in the newspapers, and in addition to that, CASE can proceed with injunction procedures," Seah added.