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China’s advertising law: What you need to know6 min read

6 min read

The Chinese market presents significant opportunities for businesses around the world. However, there are also risks when it comes to marketing in China – the most frequent issue being China’s advertising law.

Understanding how China’s advertising law affects marketers’ capabilities to promote their brand across China is vital in ensuring you can successfully reach audiences within this market.

Why is China’s advertising law important?

When looking to sell products or services in China, advertising regulations are one of the key considerations. And whilst this is generally something you’d consider in every market, the sheer severity of the potential penalties advertisers face in China, means extra attention is most definitely advised!

The blacklist

Whilst in the UK adverts using phrases such as ‘best in the UK’ or ‘number one in the UK’ are perfectly acceptable, in China, advertising laws prohibit the usage of such superlative phrases. For example, on major advertising platforms in China, such as Baidu and WeChat, words containing ‘最’ – the equivalent to using the suffix ‘est’ to add the meaning of ‘most’ – will be automatically disapproved. Baidu will also modify your ad copy to replace any superlatives with blanks. 

Avoiding the use of superlative terms in your advertising copy can save you time, money and eliminate the risk of account suspension. It’s also important to note that there are illegal groups in China whose sole purpose is to blackmail advertisers that haven’t fully adhered to advertising guidelines. Along with this, it is also common for competitors in China to look out for advertising breaches and ensure they result in a punishment.

Here are a few examples of ad copy that would be rejected in China:

  • Best, favourite, most, biggest, highest, lowest, cheapest, lowest price in history, most advanced science, last, latest, latest technology
  • First, first in China, first in the world, top sales, ranking first, unique, first brand, NO.1, TOP1, unique, first in the country, legacy, one day, only once (one), the last wave, one of the X major brands in the country, the sales crown (unless figure can be verified)
  • At the national level, at the international level, World Class, Star Class, 5A, Class A, Super Class A

It is important to know the exact Chinese characters to avoid in your advertising copy, as the guidelines are very detailed – Croud’s Chinese marketing team can help you identify the words and terms to avoid.

Industries banned from advertising

Along with words and phrases, there are also restrictions on what sectors can be advertised in China. Sectors such as gambling, tobacco, narcotic drugs, toxic drugs used in medicine and radioactive drugs are banned from any form of advertising in China.

Highly regulated industries

Pharmaceutical and medical

In 2015 the unfortunate death of Wei Zexi, which was linked to a promoted Baidu search result, triggered a large shift in the advertising industry across China. The 21-year-old student died after receiving controversial cancer treatment from a hospital he discovered via a promoted search result on Baidu. His death raised the question of ethical advertising, which led to further regulations being put in place for paid search ads, specifically for the pharmaceutical and medical industry.

Health and food supplements

The health and wellbeing industry runs deep within society and culture in China. Traditionally health products are popular amongst the older generation – making it a popular gifting category for this age group too. However, the wellbeing industry is becoming increasingly popular amongst the younger generation too, making the health and food supplement sector a massive market in China.

Despite this, advertising across this sector is heavily regulated. Advertisers looking to market any products or services that fall within the health and food supplement industry are not allowed to;

  • Include assertions or guarantees stating efficacy or safety
  • Suggest its uses in disease prevention or treatment
  • Claim or imply that the advertised goods/services are necessary to protect the consumer’s health
  • Compare with medicines or other health foods
  • Use endorsements for recommendations or certification

Most importantly, health and wellbeing products must always include the phrase ‘this product cannot replace a drug‘ within their advertising campaign.

Education

It is very common for Chinese families to value their children’s education highly, causing it to account for a large portion of a household’s income. Chinese society and culture instils the importance of knowledge and encourages lifelong learning. As such, there is a huge market for education, covering a wide range of age groups.

Despite its high demand, advertising law states that adverts for educational products or services cannot;

  • Guarantee a degree or successful school entry
  • Indicate which exam boards or staff are used within a course
  • Use scientific research or academic institutions to vouch for their product or service.

Real estate

The real estate industry is also highly regulated in China. For example, any advertising campaign which is related to a specific building must be truthful about its size.

Additionally, adverts must not:

  • Guarantee appreciation or return on investment
  • Refer to the time taken to reach a specific point of reference such as stations, parks, city centres etc.

Major advertising platforms, such as WeChat and Tencent, have very strict approval criteria for the real estate industry. Therefore, promoting commercial buildings requires various certifications including; business registration, building certificates and much more. These documents need to be submitted for additional approval prior to an ad being approved.

Endorsement

When it comes to endorsing products or services across advertising campaigns, advertisers are prohibited from using children under the age of ten for any product endorsements across China. And as previously mentioned, the medical and health sector are not allowed to use a person to endorse any products or services.

Map of China

Any adverts using the map of China must always refer to the official map from Government sources. Although it is not explicitly mentioned in the advertising law, using a map of China that differs from this can be considered as an attempt to divide China, which is a violation of a variety of other Chinese laws. This is likely to also result in disapproval from netizens as well as cause potential long-term damage to your brand.

Additionally, advertising platforms such as Baidu and Tencent perform a detailed review of any creatives related to the map of China, where the use of unofficial maps will result in your adverts being rejected. This does not apply solely to advertising material, meaning brands also need to be cautious of using the official map of China elsewhere too. For example, Christian Dior had to apologise for using an unofficial map of China during a recruitment event.

In a nutshell

Whilst the strict advertising guidelines in China can make it difficult for marketers and brands looking to advertise across China, it also drives brands to think outside of the box by pushing them to find unique ways to efficiently communicate their USPs.

So when looking to advertise in China, just as you would approach any other market, make sure you study the country-specific advertising laws.

Please note: the above advice should not be taken as legal advice. If you would like to learn more about adhering to advertising guidelines in China, get in touch.