Should paid content on social media be labelled more clearly?

Singaporean actress Rebecca Lim has apologised over social media approximately two weeks after her NTUC Income retiring stunt which left the public all riled up.

On Facebook she wrote:

"Recently, I've been reminded that being an artiste comes with great responsibilities. I know I have upset many of you, including those dearest to me. Please accept my humblest apologies. I've taken to heart many lessons, and hope that you will be patient with me as I continue to learn and grow.”

A quick check by Marketing showed that fans have since been generally supportive.

While on more traditional mediums such as print and TV, the lines between content and advertisements are more defined, the world of social media still has shades of grey. We asked industry folks if the local market has reached a point of maturity where content or marketing stunts on social media by brands should be clearly marked as "social advertorials".

Prantik Mazumdar, CMO of Happy Marketer is of the view that it should. He said that it was quite unfortunate that a brand of NTUC Income's stature had to resort to "sly tactics to garner attention on social media".

“Brands and their celebrity influencers need to be more responsible on social media as the audience on these channels are sharp and vocal. Every silly gimmick will be scrutinised and criticised," he said adding:

Yes, it would definitely impact the subtlety and 'realism' of the message, but that's a cost of responsible/transparent influencer engagement.

Mazumdar added when engaging celebrities to advertise, it would be advisable for brands to mark those pieces of content as a sponsored message or advertorial for the sake of transparency and social responsibility. In more mature markets, brands such as Johnson & Johnson and P&G already have internal policies which demand that every celebrity endorsed message on social media is clearly distinguished with an explicit disclosure.

“Even with disclosures, brands can achieve their marketing goals as long as the celebrity has the right kind of reach and if the idea is creatively executed," he said.

Ryan Lim, founder of QED Consulting agreed with Mazumdar saying in markets such as UK, content marketing needs to be clearly marked as paid. This practice has unfortunately not yet been adopted in our local markets.

Consumers need to be given the choice to decide if they wish to connect with a piece of content. Marketing stunts, as they are, do not play very well with consumers today as it simply leaves them feeling duped.

Just because a piece of content is marked advertorial or paid, doesn’t mean that it won’t be creative. It just pushes the agencies to work harder and think of more engaging content.

Last year after the Singtel-Gushcloud saga where news broke that Singtel had mandated its agency to bad mouth competitors on social media , The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) called for public inputs for its consultation on the draft "Digital and Social Media Advertising Guidelines".

According to the Guildelines, marketers are required to make sponsored messages distinguishable from personal opinions and editorial content in their posts and disclose any commercial relationships. In addition, the Guidelines will require marketers to develop community guidelines, be transparent about fees and the purchase process, and ensure that digital marketing communications addressed to children are suitable for them.

The Guidelines also state that regardless of content, paid advertising should be clearly distinguished and the disclosure for paid native advertising should be marked clearly and prominently.

The guideline draws reference from similar advertising codes of conduct that are already established in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as some of those set by social media channels.