SINGAPORE REWORKS AD CODE
OFFICIALS SAY WESTERN INFLUENCES CAN DESTROY ASIAN FAMILY VALUES
SINGAPORE-The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore will rewrite the rules governing advertising to fend off what officials believe to be immoral and offensive ads.
The ASAS is an industry watchdog group made up of members of the industry as well as the Ministry of Information and the Arts.
MITA, determined to prevent Western-influenced advertising from impairing Asian family values, is discouraging agencies from running certain ads.
"We have to get members to come to terms with MITA's new concern," said Ivan Chong, ASAS chairman.
The official discouragement-tantamount to an edict-has been effective, because so far, at least four ads have been pulled since Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's National Day Rally speech Aug. 21. Mr. Goh criticized the Western media for prescribing Western-style democracy and press freedom for all countries, regardless of the differences in culture and history.
The furor comes at a time when the government is promoting Asian values over Western liberalism-as graphicly evidenced by the recent caning of an American youth.
In the wake of that speech, the ads were either pulled or modified, and industry associations representing media, agencies and advertisers are in the midst of a series of meetings to discuss the situation.
The Code of Advertising Practice published by the ASAS says that ads should be "legal, decent and honest," but doesn't refer to policing ads that lack social reponsibility.
"Now [we have] to look at the traditional core values that are being promoted by our government on top of taking to task errant advertisers who mislead, misrepresent or overclaim in ads," Mr. Chong said.
Included among campaigns that have received official rebuke for affronting Asian tastes and values were ads for Spin laundry detergent created by Neil French, regional creative director for Ogilvy & Mather Asia.
The print campaign, which ran last summer in The Straits Times took the concept of "scratch and sniff" to a new level by featuring first a bouquet of flowers, then a man sniffing his armpit. The third ad displayed a pair of men's dirty briefs. The flight was set to be punctuated by a pair of frilly red lady's panties-but the client backed out after officials complained.
Another ad pulled was for Bristol Myers Squibb's Sustagen, a line of milk-based nutritional products, including pudding and flavored drinks.
The ad, which also ran in The Straits Times and was created by Leo Burnett Kuala Lumpur, features an Asian boy in a baseball cap with his fist raised. He appears to be shouting at his father. The tag line reads, "Come on Dad, if you can play golf five times a week, I can have Sustagen once a day."
"I found the language and the way the boy speaks most objectionable," Mr. Goh told Singaporeans during his speech. "Do your children really speak to you like that these days? These ads will encourage children to be insolent to their parents."
Mr. Goh said Singaporeans must not unthinkingly drift into the attitudes and manners which undermine "the traditional politeness and deference Asian children have for their parents and elders."
In addition, a 45-second Citibank radio spot promoting personal loans was also pulled. In the spot, a man discussed how he went to great lengths to buy a suit to impress his banker. A woman says he should have just called Citibank instead. The spot ends with "To get a fast and hassle-free Citibank personal loan, just call ..." J. Walter Thompson Co. handles.
In another instance, Qantas changed the language of a radio spot created by Fong, Haque & Soh, which ran for several weeks on government-owned Singapore Broadcast Co.'s Radio 1, prior to Mr. Goh's speech.
In the Qantas radio spot, a man tells a woman about discounted air fares to various Australian destinations. The woman asks if the trips will still be expensive.
In the original spot, the man responds "Last of the big spenders"-a phrase which attracted the official rebuke.
"The commercial encouraged big spending in an unhealthy way. SBC then decided to stop the commercial," a Ministry spokesman said. In the new spot the man responds, "Anything for you, dear."
David Fong, managing director of Fong, Haque and Soh declined to comment.
While it's true the ads were modified or withdrawn voluntarily, it is also true that the government controls SBC and can withdraw newspaper licenses at will. Thus, a caution is as good as an edict.
A Ministry spokesman said, "We should discourage advertisments which show Singaporean men, women and children behaving as if they were Westerners."
The Sustagen ad, which had been running since 1993 in Malaysia and Singapore without consumer complaint, was conceived and produced by Asians, said a Burnett spokesman.
Phyllis Chan, group account director, Leo Burnett Kuala Lumpur, said the ad was meant to be light-hearted and entertaining. "But, we take the Prime Minister's comments seriously," she said.
According to a Ministry spokesman, the advertising industry is self-regulating with the assistance of ASAS.
Bernard Chan, president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents, the agency association, welcomed new, more specific guidelines. "It is difficult to police the industry on an ad-hoc basis," he said.