34 complaints received so far this year; seven firms told to withdraw ads
SEVEN beauty and wellness companies have been told to withdraw their advertisements so far this year, after making misleading claims in them.
Some of the ads hawked products and services that advertisers said would help people lose unrealistic
amounts of weight or reduce the risk of cancer.
Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) executive director Seah Seng Choon said false advertising in this industry was “worrisome”. This was backed up with data from the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which is part of Case.
The authority has received 34 complaints about such misleading ads in the first eight months of this year. There were 39 such complaints last year, and three advertisements were withdrawn then. In 2008, four ads were withdrawn out of 25 complaints made. Such complaints spiked in 2007, when there was a boom in the breast-enhancement and hair-growth industry. Mr Seah said 64 complaints were made, mostly about the same ad. The company involved agreed to modify it.
The complaints are rising again this year, he added, because companies are pulling out all the stops to snag customers who are now more wary about signing up for beauty and wellness packages.
So far this year, three spa chains – Wax In The City, Simply Spa and Villa RainTree – shut down suddenly, leaving thousands of customers stranded with unclaimed amounts on their packages.
Mr Seah said: “The beauty and wellness industry has received lots of flak recently and customers are more careful. That is why these companies may feel the pressure to advertise more indiscriminately.”
The complaints to ASAS, mostly from members of the public, were typically about misleading claims in the ads. Common gripes include those promising breast-size enhancement, weight loss and hair growth after using certain products or services.
ASAS chairman Tan Sze Wee, a council member of the Singapore Medical Association, spoke at a seminar yesterday to educate 90 industry players on advertising regulations here.
He said: “All these claims cannot be substantiated. Breast size, for example, is genetic. No product or service can change anything.” He added that most of the companies which flouted the rules are “new entrants trying to differentiate themselves”.
ASAS was set up in 1973 and has about 20 members, including media owners, advertisers and regulators such as the Health Sciences Authority and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore. It declined to provide names of offending firms.
The rules, under the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, state that advertisements should not use scare tactics to exploit the public, be indecent or mislead with inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration and omission. ASAS evaluates each ad on a case-by-case basis and can ask media owners to withhold advertising space.
It also asks companies to take down offending ads.
If they do not do so, Case tries to get them to comply voluntarily. If they still refuse, they can be taken to court.
Anyone who refuses to adhere to advertising regulations can be fined up to $20,000, jailed up to a year or both under the Health Products Act.
Accountant Irene Tan, 34, complained to Case in January about a makeover package she had signed up for and was told the issue would be looked into.
She told The Straits Times she was given a flier by the now-defunct makeover studio, Naughty By Nature, that promised a free makeover with no obligations and experienced makeover artists. However, when she arrived at the studio, she was given the hard sell for four hours and finally bought a package for over $3,000.
“Then to make matters worse, the makeovers I received were amateurish,” she said. “I could have done a better job myself. It was definitely false advertising.”
She was unable to complete her package in time and did not get her money back.
Industry players who attended the three-hour seminar at Hotel Royal yesterday said it was useful.
Ms Wee Kee Lin, senior manager of Herbalife, a multi-level marketing company which sells health supplements, said a distributor of her firm’s products gave out fliers that doctored before and after photographs of a customer who had lost weight.
“The ‘before’ photo was exaggerated and stretched,” she said. Her firm will meet its distributors to remind them about advertising regulations soon. “We told the distributor to stop giving out the fliers.”