Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Advertising targeting children – a birds eye view of the regulatory mechanism in Singapore
Article Type: Legal briefing From: Young Consumers, Volume 12, Issue 3
The media has often targeted the more vulnerable sections of society, by featuring advertisements which are aimed at children and young adults, who often fall for the bait. One example of ads which have had a serious impact on youth would be fast-food advertisements. The situation has come to such a pass that Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s former Minister for Health, had gone on record to state that it is imperative that the Health Promotion Board curbs fast-food advertising. Increasing spending on advertisement by fast-food brands has had serious adverse health ramifications as far as children are concerned. Studies have revealed that expenditure on fast-food ads and promotions, accounts for a staggering 18-20 percent of the overall ad spend by corporate entities in Singapore. This is only the tip of the iceberg. While several jurisdictions have opted for an outright ban on advertisements which are targeted at children (and which are likely to have serious ramifications in terms of their health, social or moral well-being), some other jurisdictions have opted for a comprehensive mechanism which weeds out ads which may have a deleterious effect on youth. Singapore is one such jurisdiction.
The advertising sector in Singapore is primarily self-regulating. The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (“ASAS”), which is an “Advisory Council” to the “Consumers Association of Singapore” (CAS) (a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization which promotes fair and ethical trade practices) oversees and regulates advertising activities in Singapore. The ASAS relies on a system of guidance and voluntary compliance, which it believes is extremely beneficial and flexible in terms of resolving disputes.
The Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (the “Code”), which is administered by the ASAS, sets out the basic framework for the regulation of advertising services/commercial advertising in Singapore, and is in compliance with the plethora of laws, rules, regulations and the International Code of Advertising Practice. Most importantly, the “Code” has received the stamp of approval, by being endorsed by organizations representing advertisers, advertising agencies and the media, including inter alia, the Association of Broadcasters (Singapore), the Health Sciences Authority and the Singapore Medical Association. The “Code” applies to advertisements for all goods, services and facilities which appear in any form, or any media, including in information network services, electronic bulletin boards, on-line databases, internet services and digital communications in every format, design and context.
While the ASAS oversees, regulates and provides guidance to advertisers, advertising agencies and the media with respect to whether a given advertisement is appropriate or no, it stops short of being the “clearing house” for approval of advertisements. Contravention of the provisions of the Code may result in ASAS publishing the details of the contravening parties. ASAS is also empowered to ask the advertiser to amend or withdraw an inappropriate advertisement. Further, advertising space or time may be withheld from advertisers and trading privileges may be withdrawn.
Conformity with the provisions contained in the Code is assessed from the point of view of the advertisement’s probable impact, when taken as a whole. Some of the factors which are taken into consideration in determining the appropriateness of an ad include the nature of the audience, the medium, the nature of the product, etc.
It may be useful at this juncture to summarize some of the general principles which advertisers need to adhere to:
Advertisements should not contain anything which is illegal or might incite anyone to break the law.
Ads should not contain anything which is offensive to the standards of decency prevailing among those who are likely to be exposed to the ads.
Ads should not abuse the trust of the consumer or exploit his/ her lack of expertise, experience or knowledge.
Ads should not exploit superstitions.
They should not mislead by way of containing inaccurate, ambiguous, exaggerated material or content.
Due regard should be given for safety.
All person portrayed in ads must be in a manner which is respectful of their dignity and persons should not be commoditized.
Advertisements should not misuse research results from technical and scientific publications.
Advertisements should not exploit the natural credulity of children or their lack of experience.
Advertisements which are targeted at children should not contain anything which may result in their moral, mental or physical harm.
While the aforementioned general principles need to be borne in mind, the Code prescribes certain specific guidelines insofar as ads targeting children and young adults are concerned. In determining whether an advertisement is appropriate or not, ASAS shall factor in the age, experience and the context in which the message is delivered.
The Code stipulates that advertisements targeting children should not contain anything which is likely to result in their physical, mental or moral harm. In this connection:
Ads should not encourage children to perform dangerous acts.
Children should not be shown in hazardous situations or behaving dangerously, except to promote safety.
They should not be shown unattended in street scenes unless they are old enough to take responsibility for their own safety.
They should not be shown using or in close proximity to any dangerous substance or equipment with adult supervision.
Ads should not encourage children to copy any practice that might be unsafe.
In addition to the above, advertisements targeting children or featuring them, shall not exploit the credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or their lack of experience. In particular, children should not be made to feel inferior or unpopular for not buying the advertised product nor be made to feel that they are lacking in courage or loyalty. The Code also stipulates that parental permission should be obtained before children are committed to purchasing complex and expensive goods and services.
The Code prescribes that ads shall not make a direct appeal to children to purchase a product or service, unless it is one that will likely be in the interest of the child and which they could reasonable afford. Further, the ads should not exploit the susceptibility of children towards charitable appeals and should explain the extent to which their participation will assist in a charity- linked promotion.
Thus, the Code provides for a reasonably comprehensive mechanism and provides ample guidance insofar as advertisements targeting children and young adults in Singapore are concerned. Compliance with the guidelines, in letter and spirit, would ensure that advertisers would be able to subtly target children in their ads while not contravening the law, and at the same time not negatively influencing children.
Gladys MirandahBased at patrick mirandah co. (s) pte ltd, Singapore.
Published in conjunction with the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance (www.gala-marketlaw.com). GALA is an alliance of lawyers located throughout the world specializing in advertising law.