Up to consumers, companies to check advertisers

Moves to plug gaps in the best practice codes for advertising in the online world will not stop transgressions ("Plan to plug loopholes in online ad rules"; Tuesday).

After all, profit-driven advertisers will find ways to get around these codes.

It is the responsibility of the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) to promote ethical and truthful advertising.

However, it will face two challenges.

First, how to define reasonable guidelines, especially on the placement of sponsorship declarations.

Advertisers and their "influencers" sometimes pass off paid advertisements as personal opinions.

If asked to declare upfront that their meal, for example, was sponsored, they attempt to make the declaration less conspicuous, such as by including it in a sea of hashtags, adding a small banner in the feature image, or mentioning it only at the end of the post.

The second challenge Asas faces is how to balance differing perspectives.

For instance, Tuesday's report quoted a blogger as insisting that there is no need to list relationships with restaurant owners in cases where the owner is, say, a friend.

Other advertisers may not share the same opinion.

It, therefore, falls on consumers and the companies which engage these advertisers to discern the authenticity and quality of online advertisements.

Consumers have become savvier and will have also developed the necessary scepticism when encountering such content.

As a result, they should shun advertisers who are known for breaches of trust, such as buying "likes" and "followers" to create false impressions.

For companies which engage these advertisers, familiarity with online marketing and its impact should be built.

The online landscape is more crowded and attention spans of consumers are much shorter.

Against this backdrop, companies should also demand more rigorous evidence from their advertisers.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Up to consumers, companies to check advertisers'. Print Edition | Subscribe