Complaints about online and derogatory advertisements on the rise in Singapore

An ad put up by eatery OverEasy Orchard at Liat Towers received flak for featuring three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks and a sexist tagline.
An ad put up by eatery OverEasy Orchard at Liat Towers received flak for featuring three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks and a sexist tagline. PHOTO: THE LO & BEHOLD GROUP

SINGAPORE - Consumers raised more concerns about online and derogatory advertisements last year, even as the total volume of feedback on advertisements fell.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) received 272 pieces of feedback in 2015, compared to 273 in 2014 and 307 in 2013. This included queries, advertising advice, and complaints that are either consumer-to-business or business-to-business in nature.

Feedback about online advertisements doubled from 45 in 2014 to 91 last year. Some consumers were misled by discounts and rates that were not as attractive as advertised, while other ads falsely depicted or made questionable claims about certain products.

The spike in such feedback may have been due to consumers spending more time on their mobile devices, hence exposing them to more online ads, said Asas chairman, Professor Tan Sze Wee. He added that there are also more advertisements on websites, social media channels and electronic direct mailers, as more businesses venture online.

Some retailers hold the mistaken belief that the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice does not apply to their online advertisements and that they are free from the restrictions of traditional media, he said.

"Asas would like to highlight that (the code) applies to advertisements in all media, including electronic communications and websites. The key premise of (the code) is that all advertisements must be legal, decent, truthful and honest," he added.

Last year, there were 13 pieces of feedback about derogatory advertisements, up from six in 2014. This included an advertisement put up by eatery OverEasy Orchard at Liat Towers on Orchard Road that featured three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks and the tagline: "Seriously sexy buns. Two are better than one. Smack that. Aug 2015."

Asas, which received four complaints by consumers who thought the ad was sexist, ordered the ad to be taken down.

Other feedback that Asas received involved imagery and depictions that people felt were derogatory towards their own ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, the beauty, hair and slimming industries received the most flak for their ads, followed by the food & beverage, travel, telecommunications and electrical & electronics industries.

Asas is working on guidelines for digital and social media advertising. It conducted a public consultation exercise last December and in early January, and will finalise the guidelines by the second quarter of this year.

"Asas takes a stern view of breaches of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice and will implement measures - such as adverse publicity and informing media owners to block the advertisements - against businesses that repeatedly engage in unethical advertising," said Prof Tan.