Beauty, restaurant ads top consumer complaints in 2018

Advertising watchdog received 218 cases of feedback, of which 19 were related to beauty industry

The top grouse for consumers last year was misleading beauty-related advertisements, with complaints about the restaurant sector coming in a close second.

Announcing its latest figures yesterday, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) said it received a total of 218 cases of feedback last year. Feedback includes complaints as well as requests for advertising advice.

Of these, the highest number was 19 and involved the beauty industry, including firms which advertise hair and slimming treatments.

Five of the 19 reports received were on misleading claims about hair loss treatments.

Asas chairman Ang Peng Hwa said the advertisements did not have the mandatory disclaimer as stated in the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice.

The disclaimer states "there is no scientific proof that any product (except certain registered medicinal products) or service can retard hair loss or promote hair growth".

Professor Ang said Asas has followed up with these advertisers to ensure their advertisements include the disclaimer.

Three beauty-related reports involved promotions that consumers said were not honoured because the terms and conditions had been referred to but not written in the advertisement.

The promotions in these advertisements had ended when the cases were reported.

Prof Ang said Asas has advised these businesses that future promotions should comply with the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice.

"Advertisers are reminded that promotional information must be truthful, and all pertinent terms and conditions must be stated clearly," he added.

"If an advertisement does not include terms and conditions, it should make it easy for consumers to find them."

Last year, Asas received 18 reports against the restaurant sector, which includes food delivery and restaurant reservation mobile applications.

The main issues were related to price and discount discrepancies in advertisements or a lack of clarity in the description of food and beverage items on menus and promotional materials.

Citing an example, Prof Ang said that a fast-food restaurant had displayed a promotion stating "upsize your side and drink for $1" on its counter, with an image of an orange juice and a side order.

However, consumers who took the option with orange juice were charged $2.

Asas wrote to the eatery, which then clarified that the $1 promotion applied only to soft drinks.

The eatery said it will change the image used in its display to avoid further misunderstanding.

Prof Ang said advertisers should ensure that information on their promotional materials is clear, accurate and up to date. This includes prices and terms and conditions.

In another example, a consumer claimed that he was charged goods and services tax on top of a restaurant's listed prices, when it had not been indicated in the promotional materials.

The restaurant later complied with Asas' advice to indicate the prices and terms and conditions for their promotions clearly and prominently, added Prof Ang.

Other industries that saw a high number of reports last year included the food and beverage sector, with 15 cases, as well as electrical and electronics, and telecommunications, which had 14 each.

Consumers who are aware of advertisements that are not legal, decent, honest or truthful are encouraged to write to Asas through its website at www.asas.org.sg/onlinecomplaint

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2019, with the headline 'Beauty, restaurant ads top consumer complaints in 2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe