On almost every social media platform in Singapore, one is exposed to advertisements from the government. From vaccination campaigns, to memes by SGAG and features on podcasts and videos, advertisements by the government take many forms.
Sponsored posts by the government on social media
As set out in the graphic above, at times a post sponsored by the Government is not easily identifiable. For example, the only indicator that the post above was sponsored was the #sp hashtag at the tail-end of the caption.
Even if you do know that it is sponsored, there is no clear indication of who the post was sponsored by.
As Madhu astutely points out, Instagram does have a feature to make it unmistakably clear to viewers and readers that a post was sponsored by an entity. With this feature available, it is indeed puzzling why the #sp hashtag was used instead.
In our posts regarding a lack of clear indication that a post was sponsored, we advocated for greater transparency in the amount of taxpayers’ monies being spent on such endeavours. We also called for the enaction of legislation to ensure that all sponsored posts are clearly labelled. That way, readers and viewers will be able to take whatever comes after the ‘sponsored post’ label with a grain (or a truckload) of salt.
Parliamentary question filed by Leong Mun Wai
On 9 January 2023, NCMP Leong Mun Wai filed a question in Parliament to seek information on Government spending on advertising. In particular, he wanted to know how much was spent on advertising on online and traditional media, and how much was spent on online content creators and influencers.
He also sought information on the total number of engagements that these sponsored posts by the Government receive.
His full question to the Minister for Communications and Information is set out below:
(a) For each year from 2011 to 2021, how much is the Government’s annual spending for advertising been on (i) traditional media such as print and television advertisements (ii) online media such as Facebook and TikTok advertisements and (iii) sponsored posts and videos by online content creators and influencers; and
(b) What is the total number of impressions and clicks for each advertising medium for the same period.
MCI is able to track a proportion of annual spending for advertising
Minister Josephine Teo told Mr Leong that, on a previous occasion in 2016 when a similar question was asked by Workers Party NCMP Dennis Tan, the Government said that it “did not keep track of the total amount Ministries spend on online advertisements.”
In October 2018, a ‘Whole-of-Government’ demand aggregation approach was introduced for advertisement procurement. As a result of this approach, MCI has been able to track a proportion of annual spending. However, based on a plain reading of the Minister’s response, it appears that not all of the Government spending on advertising is tracked.
$150M to $175M was spent on Government advertising in FY 2019
MCI estimates that the Government spent $150M to $175M on advertising in FY 2019. It then went on to say that “it increased between 30 and 50 per cent in FY 2020 and FY 2021.”
It is unclear from the way the response is phrased whether the increase refers to a year-on-year increase, or simply an increase from the FY 2019 estimates. One can only hope that such statements are drafted more clearly in the future.
Assuming it is the latter, and if we take the lower end of the FY 2019 estimate and apply a 30% increase to that figure, it is safe to conclude that the government spent at least $195M in advertising each year in FY 2020 and FY 2021. Put simply, this number is derived by adding 30% to 150M.
This increase in spending was attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, where there was a need to “reach wife segments of the population” to keep them informed of developments. Reference was also made to regular advertising to encourage people to take the bivalent vaccine.
“The Government also increased spending for advertisements to disseminate information on support schemes, employment assistance, upskilling and reskilling training for career development and pivoting to jobs in growth sectors.” – MCI
A further breakdown cannot be released: MCI
MCI estimated that the government spent between $50M and $75M for advertising on traditional and online media in the first half of FY 2022. More than half of these taxpayers’ monies went towards advertising in traditional media.
A further breakdown of the spending “cannot be released” due to “market sensitivity”, MCI stated. It added that a detailed breakdown would affect its “bargaining position with media owners”.
MCI does not track the total number of impressions and clicks
Turning to the second half of Leong Mun Wai’s question on the engagement statistics of government advertising, MCI stated that it does not track the total number of impressions for each advertising medium as “Ministries themselves are responsible for measuring the effectiveness of their advertising”.
However, Minister Josephine Teo provided some examples of engagement rates from MCI’s own advertisements. It shared that a music video featuring Phua Chu Kang titled ‘Get your shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi’ received over 1.7 million views on YouTube. It is unclear how much money was spent on this music video, which was described as ‘catchy’.
Another example cited, which is reproduced in it’s entirety below, also needs some deciphering.
As an indication from MCI’s own advertising initiatives, COVID-19 vaccination and safe management measures on e-Getai shows that are targeted at Chinese seniors received over 7.5 million views in total.
The first half of the sentence is, again, hard to understand.
It appears that MCI’s advertisments relating to COVID-19 vaccination and safe management measures, which were featured during e-Getail shows, received over 7.5 million views in total.
Parts of Mr Leong Mun Wai’s questions remain unanswered
While we can understand how a ‘further breakdown’ may impact ‘price sensitivity’ we note that Mr Leong Mun Wai’s request for data on the amount of taxpayers’ monies spent on government advertising through ‘influencers and content creators’ remain unanswered.
Similarly, the question on the amount spent on government advertising via Facebook and TikTok also remains unanswered.
The Minister’s full response may be accessed here.