Presently, all advertisements published in Singapore must adhere to the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice ("the Code"), administered by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore ("ASAS"). The Code promotes high standard of ethics in advertising.

Although, the Code has no force of law, ASAS is empowered to request offending marketers to amend or withdraw any advertisement contrary to the Code. ASAS may also impose sanctions, such as withholding of advertising space and withdrawal of trading privileges from offending marketers. In extreme cases of non-compliance, there may be the additional sanction of adverse publicity.

While the Code has served the industry, it did not address new advertising issues arising from online marketing on platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc ("Digital Platforms"). After various consultations with social media agencies, public agencies, multinational companies and members of the public, ASAS at last issued Guidelines on Interaction Marketing Communication & Social Media ("the Guidelines") on 29 August 2016. Marketers are to adhere to the Guidelines by 29 September 2016.

What are the standards provided in the Guidelines?

The Guidelines set out the following standards of how marketers should conduct online marketing on Digital Platforms. Click here for complete details.

1. Identification of commercial messages

All marketing communication must be distinguished from editorial or personal opinions. Where there is a relationship between the endorser and the marketer of the product that may affect the credibility of the endorsement, disclosures must be provided. Marketer should not claim that the product has been endorsed by someone when it has not.

2. Disclosures

Disclosures should be made simple and straightforward to consumers. Disclosures must be prominent. For example, they should be in a colour that differs from that of the background to draw out the disclosure and be placed early on, so that the consumer can see the disclosure with minimal scrolling.

3. Clarity of the offer and conditions

Marketers are required to clearly indicate to consumers when they will be charged a fee for services offered. Warning must be provided before the marketer charges for the fee. Consumers should be given sufficient opportunity to review the accuracy of any input data before completion of the transaction.

4. Use of social engagement tools

Marketers cannot boost the user engagement of a website, for instance the number of likes on Facebook, through fraudulent means. Examples of fraudulent means include the purchase of bulk "likes" and creation of fake accounts.

5. Digital marketing communication and children

Where the online marketing is aimed at children of a certain age group, the content of the advertisement must be appropriate for such children. Further, personal information regarding children that are identifiable should be only disclosed upon consent from the parent or legal guardian.

6. Respect for consumers, competitors, public groups and review sites

Marketers should update their internal social media policies to make certain that consumers are not subjected to marketing myths or false campaigns.

How will the Guidelines change the scene?

In 2015, ASAS received multiple complaints about advertisements on Digital Platforms. Such complaints may undermine consumers' opinion about the trustworthiness of online marketing on Digital Platforms. The Guidelines serve as a positive step towards enhancing consumer confidence of advertisements and endorsements on Digital Platforms. The Guidelines also serve as timely reminder to marketers that the high standard of ethics applies not only to advertisements on traditional platforms, but also to that on Digital Platforms.