Natalie Meyer
Natalie Meyer
20 January 2021 0 Comments

All eyes are on China’s regulation of the big tech companies over recent weeks, but it’s not just Alibaba and Tencent that are being pulled in line with China’s laws.

When it comes to brand marketing in China, foreign companies should expect to do some extra preparation given that regulations can be even stricter there than they are in Western countries.

In the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, it’s normal to see brands loudly tooting their own horn such as Disney’s ‘the happiest place on earth’, Budweiser’s ‘King of Beers’, Blackmores’ ‘the best of health’, L&P’s ‘world famous in New Zealand’ and others.

But in China, these slogans would be slapped with a huge fine and subsequent loss of reputation.

The new advertising regulations have been effective since 1 September 2015 and are the first major revision of the Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China since being enacted in 1995. The new law expands regulations around the following products:

1. Medicine, medicinal treatment and medical devices
2. Pesticides, veterinary medicine, fodder and fodder additives
3. Tobacco and alcohol
4. Education and training
5. Products or services that promise return on investment
6. Real estate and listings; and
7. Seeds for cultivation and animals for breeding.

Not every global or local brand took the updated regulations on board and those that didn’t have paid the price for their mistake. Here are examples of some of the companies hit with fines in recent years for breaching China’s Advertising Laws:


blackmores ad in China that got them finedWhen and what: Fined US$53,390 (346,600yuan) in March 2017 for misleading advertising. On their website, the Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce (AIC) published that Blackmores was being fined for claiming that its products could treat arthritis and cardiovascular disease, amongst other ailments.

Law: Article 14 states that an advertisement for medicines should not in any way contain “any unscientific assertions or assurances in terms of efficiency or uses” nor should it claim “treatment efficiency or curative rate.”


China ad that got fineDigital marketplace specializing in second-hand cars

When and what: Fined US$1,926,580.55 (12,500,000 yuan) on November 15 2018 for the following false advertising claim: “One year after establishment, our transaction volume is leading the market.”

Law: Article 28 states that “using fictional, falsified, or unsubstantiated scientific research, statistics, survey, excerpt or quotation, as supporting material” is prohibited.


durex illegal ad chinaWhen and what: In 2019, Durex worked with HeyTea and Taopiaopiao on a joint marketing campaign, which was published across social media and included sexually explicit language. In July 2020, the Shanghai Municipal Administration for Market Regulation issued Durex with a retrospective fine of US$120,620 (810,000 yuan).

Law: Article 7 states “an advertisement should not contain anything that would jeopardize social and public order and violate good social conventions.”

Pictured: One of Durex’s better received marketing campaigns was released when Apple unveiled its 5G smartphone. Durex wove the new iPhone into their advertising by joking (above) “5G is fast, but you can slow it down.” The Weibo post received almost 1 million likes, 12 000 shares and over 40 000 comments.


When and what: Currently under investigation by the Beijing Ministry of Industry and Commerce for using superlative adjectives (specifically ‘best’) in advertising on their website. If found guilty, Xiaomi will have to fork out US$31,000 as a minimum penalty.

Law: Article 7 states that an advertisement should not contain superlative adjectives such as ‘state level,’ ‘highest level’ or ‘the best.’

Pictured: An advertisement for the Xiaomi Mi 11 model phone claims that it has “perhaps” the most expensive screen in the phone industry.

Fortunately, there are some global companies leading their peers in advertising, by adjusting their campaigns to be both appropriate and successful in China.

carlsberg china ad

Carlsberg Beer’s slogan “Probably the best beer in the world” skilfully included the word “probably” to make less of an absolute claim. Carlsberg then changed their Chinese slogan to “Spending 170 years to create better beer” to convey the same message in a less direct way.

If you’re developing a branding campaign for the Chinese market, follow Carlsberg’s example and make sure it abides by China’s advertising regulations.

Navigating China’s marketing laws can be daunting, especially when you’re developing positioning and messaging that is unique and catchy. Our team of local and foreign marketing experts can help you effectively and efficiently reach your target market, all while operating within the red tape. Reach out today to learn more!

We look forward to hearing from you.