If you’re a college student who’s been misled by an advertising campaign, you might be wondering what the heck is going on.
It’s not the first time that adverts have been pulled for allegedly deceptive practices.
In October last year, for example, a campaign featuring two teenagers was pulled after it was revealed they had made up their ages and said they had been enrolled in university, only to be shown on their school’s website in an advert for the National University of Singapore.
Another controversial campaign in 2016, which was launched by the government of Singapore, included the students’ parents telling the story of their son’s death, which they claimed was caused by the poisoning of his favourite drink.
The campaign, titled ‘The Last Straw’ (Singapore: Singapore University Press), was described by critics as being “inherently deceptive”, with a message of hope that students who died in an accident would be given the chance to get their lives back.
“It seems that there is no end to this type of misleading content,” said the University of Southern California’s Sarah Wirathu, a lecturer in media studies.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Last year, an ad featuring a pregnant woman was pulled by the Government Communications Office after it appeared in a Singapore newspaper.
And in March last year an ad for an NHS mental health service was pulled for misleading claims that patients were more likely to seek treatment if they were accompanied by a trusted friend, even though the patient’s own mental health was in question.
While the advertisements have been controversial, the government says they’re only part of the problem.
As a result of the digital revolution, advertisements are now less likely to be used as a way to trick students into clicking on ads or to misrepresent their educational background.
According to the Education Ministry, online advertising accounted for just under 1% of the nation’s total advertising spending in the first half of 2018.
Advertising on the government’s own website accounted for less than 1% in that same period, while advertisements on other platforms and mobile applications accounted for more than 40% of spending.
However, critics have argued that the ads are misleading because they’re not clear on what they’re actually trying to get students to do.
One of the ads, which showed the students and their parents standing outside a pharmacy in Singapore’s capital, Singapore, was withdrawn after complaints from concerned parents.
Many of the other ads are vague about the nature of their activities and offer only vague messages about the courses they’re offered.
Some have been banned, while others have been removed from the website, but not before students have been tricked into clicking through to the offending ad.
This isn’t the first controversy to hit the school system’s advertising campaign.
Back in April last year the National Education Union, which represents teachers, was accused of using “fake” students and teachers in its advertisements.
Students were sent emails saying the organisation had removed their information, after an ad showed students posing as the organisation’s secretary, and claiming to be a student.
Since then, the Education Department has said it has removed advertisements from all government websites.
Singapore’s National Information Commission said it would be investigating the issue.
With reports from Kim Eun-sook, Rohan Bala, Lee Hae-woon, Jia Hong-woo and Simon Ting in Singapore, and Dan Boon, Mark Leggett, Michael Hui, Chih-yen Wong and Eunmin Park in Hong Kong