Government Advertising

MP Leon Perera

Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): Mr Chairman, extrapolating from a Parliamentary Question reply, the Government’s total spending on advertising in 2022 may have been well over $100 million. I will make two points.

Firstly, there has been concern expressed about an SGAG Instagram post that was only labelled “#sp”. The Instagram function to show that an IG post is sponsored was not used in that particular instance.

For transparency, would the Government agree to have clear labels on all advertisements indicating the responsible agency? After all, political ads are required to have labels issued by the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) Office.

Secondly, I agree that there is a legitimate public interest served in Government advertising that serves to nudge citizens to do beneficial things, like take up healthy habits or apply for a useful scheme, for example.

But some advertising seems to not embody a nudging intent. Some ads seem to be aimed more at fostering “feel good” vibes towards an agency, and some even seem aimed at persuading the public to see the Government in a good light, with no clear public interest served in terms of ultimately nudging positive behaviours.

I only have time for one example. This is an advertisement on the housing programme. This ad, referred to by the hon members Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa earlier in this House, is aimed at persuading the public that, “We are committed to keeping HDB flats affordable and accessible for Singaporeans” and presents various factoids about Build-To-Order (BTO) launches and prices.

But what is the public interest served here? To raise awareness so people apply for BTOs? But is this necessary? The application rates for BTOs are already very high and rising. Is there a need to raise awareness? So, what behaviour exactly are we nudging with this ad?

Moreover, the ad seems more aimed at persuading people that the Government is doing a good job, keeping housing affordable and accessible, which is an opinion about public policy and one might say, politics.

If the reply is that such advertising raises public confidence and trust in the agency or Government and hence, conduces more public participation in schemes, surely, the best way to establish trust is good service delivery and surely that trust cannot be bought with advertising.

So, as to free up more revenue for the Budget, I would suggest that ads be run only where there is a measurable behavioural trade-off. A return on investment test should be applied. Revenue should not be spent on ads that generate “feel good” vibes or which aim to persuade people that the Government is doing a good job. The latter is more akin to political advertising and should not be funded with public money.

Ministry of Communications and Information
28 February 2023

%d bloggers like this: