Advertising Legally in China

Advertising Legally in China

If you are going to establish a presence in China, you will need to advertise. In an earlier chapter, I shared some ideas about how to advertise. My intent in this chapter is how to keep you out of jail when you advertise. I’m not trying to scare you, but you need to understand that there are a lot of things you can do when you advertise in the U.S., that you are prohibited from doing in China. I would personally feel bad for you if everything went well with your EB-5 business in China, but you ended up in trouble simply because you did not understand some of the basics of Chinese advertising law.



Caution Flag


Americans have traditionally loved to find a way to insert some symbolic form of nationalism or patriotism into their advertising, especially bald eagles and Old Glory, to imply some sort of approval of their goods or services. To do so in China is illegal. They probably won’t mind the American flag, but you are not permitted to use the flag of the People’s Republic of China or any other Chinese national emblem.


Kicking the Competition


Criticizing the competition or implying that your competitors are providing inferior service is not allowed, even though American advertising often does so in ways that are sometimes subtle, and at other times not so subtle. Even our politicians do it. According to Article 12 of the Chinese advertising law, you may not “belittle the commodities or services of other producers and manufacturers or operators.” So much for the Pepsi Challenge.


Good, Better, Best


Don’t try to be clever by calling your service “the best thing since sliced bread;” the Chinese government is on the side of sliced bread. This less-thanclever tactic is used in the U.S. all too often, even though the advertiser has the burden of proof to substantiate the claim to being the best. In China, don’t use comparative language, and don’t even think about superlatives. And regardless of what you say about your service, the publisher may still require you to prove that it is accurate and true, because the publisher is as liable as you for publishing any advertising with unsupportable claims.


Press Release Advertising


How often have you been reading a page in a newspaper or magazine, thinking that what you are reading is a press release, only to find that you are reading an advertisement disguised as a press release? It’s an old trick that will not fly in China. Advertisements must be “distinguishable,” which means that citizens of the PRC should be able to readily understand that they are reading an advertisement. You are probably pretty safe on this one, as no newspaper in its right mind will let you do it. Regardless, make your advertising look like advertising. It would be foolish to see how close you can get to the edge.





Ad Placement


U.S. newspapers and magazines typically charge for advertising per column inch or some similar mechanism. Special rates apply for full page spreads, double-truck, and other special sizes. Some charge a premium for placement, but that may not always be true. The reason I mention this is because of the insight shared by Dan Harris in Advertising Age.


“It's not uncommon for the Chinese media to offer up favorable

reporting for a fee, or for ad salespeople to offer you "special"

placement in return for you giving them personally "a little

something extra." Do not do it. Just don't.

“Making these sorts of payments could cause you huge legal

problems, particularly if the media outlet is government-owned.

Such payments may be illegal under Chinese law, U.S. law (the

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), and European Union law.

Determining when such payments constitute illegal bribes is

usually very complicated and case specific. It's not worth the risk.”


Advertising by E-Mail


The following is true about e-mail advertising in China, whether you initiate your efforts from China or from the U.S. I personally believe it is of vital importance.


 You may not send an advertisement e-mail to a Chinese customer or

potential customer without their specific, written permission. That

permission must be documented, retained and available for

verification. So, before you start a mass e-mail campaign in or to

China, you may want to consider how much documentation you’re

willing to undertake. Keep in mind that any kind of corporate

transactional content could be considered advertising. Best to err on

the side of caution.


Prepare a form now to include in your EB-5 presentation packages. Once you have met a potential client, ask for their permission to send e-mails that promote your business. If you do send e-mail ads to recipients after receiving permission,


 You must include the word “AD” in the subject line of an advertisement e-mail.

 You must be careful what you say. The China Digital Times website currently contains over 2,100 sensitive words that should be avoided. Some of the obvious ones are Taiwan and democracy.

 You must certify in writing that any links to any site, download, app, or software you supply do not contain spyware and are protected (whatever that means) against potential hacking.


The good news is that the Chinese government does not typically prosecute e-mail law violations. They just block most of them. Even so, before you make that a reason for doing something questionable, I shall re-quote Dan Harris: “It’s not worth the risk.”


Exhibit F is a list of Chinese advertising Agencies and translation services that may be proven to be extremely valuable in your quest to advertise your services in China.

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