Government mindful its advertising 'must not be towards a political end'; spending guided by impartiality: Tan Kiat How
SINGAPORE: The Government is mindful that its advertising "must not be towards a political end" and that spending on advertisements is "guided by impartiality", Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How said in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 28).
Campaigns by government agencies aim to inform or educate the public, he added.
"The Government is not unique in spending on advertising to promote awareness to the public. Many companies advertise to ensure that their brands reach their intended audiences," said Mr Tan.
"However, unlike private companies which can choose their target segments for marketing, the Government has to ensure that our messages reach out to all Singaporeans."
Mr Tan was responding to questions from MP He Ting Ru (WP-Sengkang), MP Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) and Nominated MP Janet Ang about the Government's advertising strategy.
Last year, the Government spent between S$175 million and S$200 million on advertising – about 0.2 per cent of total government expenditure.
The Government's advertising spend increased during the pandemic, as it was necessary to keep the public informed about COVID-19 and the Government's response, said Mr Tan.
"We expect Government's spending on advertising to come down after COVID-19," he added.
Ms He asked what obstacles were there in either tracking the effectiveness of the Government's advertising campaigns or publishing reports of key performance indicators.
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) uses established industry metrics including impressions, click-through rate, cost-per-click, and the number of views for digital media advertising, said Mr Tan.
For print, radio and free-to-air television advertising, surveys are conducted to measure metrics like message recall, he explained.
Mr Tan added that respective ministries are better placed to assess their advertising approach based on the outcomes that they seek to achieve.
"Ministries have to rigorously evaluate their advertising budgets and be accountable for their programmes," said the Senior Minister of State.
He added that advertising is part of a "broader programme" and effort by the ministry and its outcomes should be evaluated against whether those programmes and initiatives have met the needs or desired outcomes.
"That is how we chose to see the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, not just looking at specific advertising programmes," Mr Tan explained.
Referencing a whole-of-government demand aggregation contract for media buying of advertising that was introduced in October 2018, he said this "enhances value for money" for the Government.
"At the end of the day, Government’s advertising spend is to ensure that all Singaporeans can make full use of the Government’s many schemes and programmes," he added.
Mr Perera showed the House a Government advertisement on accessible and affordable Build-to-Order (BTO) flats. He asked about the intention of the advertisement and if it was necessary.
"First, let me say that we appreciate that during this period, coming out of COVID-19, that Singaporeans are feeling anxious about the availability and affordability of BTOs. And I fully empathise with these Singaporeans," said Mr Tan.
"There is a reason why MND (Ministry of National Development) proactively puts out facts and figures, including BTO launches, the median prices of BTO flats, so that all Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, know about the pipeline of BTO flats coming up, and make the best decision that they can based on available information."
The BTO advertisement shows the median price of a four-room flat in a non-mature estate, and the information helps people to make the best decision that they can, he said, adding that the advertisement will "reassure them that public housing is available and affordable".
"This is in the public interest. There is no point made in the MND infographic to get Singaporeans to feel good about the Government," said the Senior Minister of State.
Ministries use objective industry metrics to evaluate their campaigns, and MCI also requires the ministries to evaluate the campaigns' effectiveness.
He said that while MCI does this for advertisements led by the ministry, it does not yet have a system to enable centralised tracking. It is exploring the best way to do so, he added.
"COVID-19 has taught us that public communication is crucial to maintaining high public trust in the Government. This makes a difference to Singaporeans, and we take this public trust seriously," he said.
In Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 28), Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Tan Kiat How, Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary responded to clarifications sought by MPs on the expenditure estimates of their ministry.