The number of complaints and queries about online advertisements doubled last year, as did the figure for adverts that consumers found derogatory.
The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) released its 2015 figures yesterday, showing that it received 272 overall complaints, just one fewer than in 2014 and down from 307 in 2013.
There were 91 complaints about online advertisements last year, up from 45 in 2014.
Some consumers were misled by discounts and rates that turned out to be not as attractive as advertised, while other ads falsely depicted or made questionable claims about certain products.
Asas is now drafting guidelines for digital and social media advertising. It has conducted a public consultation exercise and will finalise the guidelines by the second quarter of this year.
Asas chairman Tan Sze Wee said 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.
"Asas would like to highlight that (the code) applies to advertisements in all media, including electronic communications and websites," Professor Tan said.
"The key premise of (the code) is that all advertisements must be legal, decent, truthful and honest."
He added that the spike in such feedback may have been due to consumers spending more time on their mobile devices.
There are also more advertisements on websites, social media channels and e-mail, as more businesses venture online.
Last year, there were 13 complaints about derogatory advertisements, up from six in 2014.
They included an ad put up by eatery OverEasy Orchard at Liat Towers in Orchard Road that featured three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks and the tagline: "Seriously sexy buns. Two are better than one. Smack that."
Asas received four complaints saying that the advert was sexist, and ordered it 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 and beverage, health, finance, and travel industries.
Besides getting businesses to take down or amend ads, Asas can ask media owners, such as Singapore Press Holdings and the Association of Media Owners (Singapore), which sit on the Asas council, to withhold advertising space from those that repeatedly engage in unethical advertising.
This article was first published on March 24, 2016.
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