If you’re an advertiser based in the west, it’s easy to assume that the same rules apply as you turn your attention eastward. But things can be quite different!
In reality, the two are as far apart as their equivalent points on the compass. So, if you’re considering entering the Chinese market, and especially if you’re looking to advertise on professional social network LinkedIn in China, there’s a bit of homework you might want to do first.
Don’t worry, while advertising law differs significantly in China compared to the west, it’s still very possible to enter the market there and thrive too – as evidenced by the countless western brands doing exactly that right now. Likewise, LinkedIn operates in a similar way to other regions… once you navigate beyond the idiosyncrasies of the region.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at LinkedIn’s approach to the Chinese market, what’s the latest changes, how advertising law comes into play, and how you can get started advertising in China today.
LinkedIn in China – a whole different animal?
It should go without saying that access to the Internet, as well as the types of content and websites which are accessible to its population, are vastly more regulated than other places in the world.
This difference goes beyond simply different versions of websites and services – platforms often take an entirely different approach in the Chinese region, as is the case with LinkedIn.
Back in 2014, LinkedIn launched a localized version of LinkedIn in China, on the understanding that it would operate within the tight regulatory controls of the Internet in the region. While successful to some degree, the company announced in October 2021 that they would be deprecating the Chinese version of LinkedIn due to the challenges of greater compliance requirements.
Rather than withdraw from the region entirely, LinkedIn has instead developed a dedicated App without the social sharing features of its primary platform. The newly launched App is called “InCareer” and will help professionals in China find new jobs and opportunities, but it will not feature a social feed as LinkedIn traditionally does.
What foreign brands need to know about advertising law in China – a crash course
Unlike western countries, China is known to have very specific rules (not just guidelines) in place for advertisements which run in the country.
It’s changes to these rules which have led to platforms like LinkedIn encountering certain challenges operating the same way they do in other geographies – and thus altering their strategies in the country.
These rules and regulations really come down to a single piece of legislation: the Advertisement Law of the People’s Republic of China. Initially instated in 1994 but revisited and updated in 2015, this legislation outlines the general advertising rules in China, including specific banned industries which can’t advertise at all in the country.
Naturally, the law is expansive in scope, so we’ll try to summarize the key rules, restrictions, and bans advertising law puts in place.
Banned industries are essentially lines of business which the Chinese government has deemed unacceptable to be broadcast as part of any advertisement format. These include:
- Pharmaceuticals and drugs (specifically narcotics, rather than medicines)
Regulated industries are those which are allowed to advertise in China, but which are tightly regulated in terms of the content and positioning of the creative. Regulated industries currently include
- Medical and pharmaceutical treatments used for medicinal purposes. This specifically refers to treatments, not narcotics.
- Supplements and other forms of health foods.They must not include any assertions of efficacy or other unsubstantiated claims.
- Educational establishments such as universities. More specifically, such organizations cannot make promises about a student’s success in entering or graduating from the establishment.
Celebrity endorsements operate quite differently from the ‘influencer’ culture which we see in the west. There are many rules which are applied to these endorsements in China, including the requirement that the celebrity has genuinely used the product or service. In addition, they must not have made any ‘false statements’ about the product, and if so, they must have served at least 3 years of ‘administrative punishment’ before being appointed spokesperson for a brand.
Finally, advertisements aimed at children are not allowed in any school setting, except for public service messaging. This ban on school advertisements extends to the materials children use in schools, including brand logos on textbooks, stationery, and even school buses. OUtside of the school setting, China has restrictions in place on advertisements aimed at under-14s, which cannot encourage any form of dangerous behavior or promote any product or service which may be damaging to mental or physical health of China’s young people.
What brands need to know about Chinese advertising content restrictions
With so many industries banned or tightly regulated, it’ll perhaps come as no surprise that even those which are allowed to advertise in China must do so within a certain set of restrictions.
These advertising content restrictions serve as a guide for advertisers so that the creative they produce to advertise their products or services doesn’t inadvertently contravene the Advertisement Law of the People’s Republic of China. Some of these will seem like common sense inclusions around common decency, whereas others might come as a surprise to western sensibilities.
Here are just some of the content restrictions which apply to advertisements in China:
- Obscenities, pornography, illicit drug use, racial slurs, and other affronts to common decency.
- Discrimination of gender, religion, or race.
- Any depiction, direct or indirect, of the People’s Republic of China’s national assets. This includes China’s flag, national anthem, army flag, and more.
- Anything which is detrimental to China’s national identity or national interests.
- The use of superlative words (e.g. best, most, largest, cheapest, advanced, latest).
- Words which refer to ‘number one’ (e.g. first, top, only, #1).
- Any wording which relates to class or social status.
- Slogans which refer to positions of authority (e.g. ‘recommended by experts’)
- Language which refers to nationality (e.g. ‘the nation’s favorite’)
Essentially, if you’re considering running ad campaigns in China, the most important thing to consider is a piece of messaging’s impact on social sensibilities in the country. For this reason, it’s a very good idea to spend time understanding the current climate of Chinese culture, including reviewing any currently running ad campaigns in the region.
For a more in-depth exploration of the advertising content restrictions in China, be sure to check out our Massive Guide to China Advertising Regulations.
Penalties (or what happens if you break the rules)
Before we wrap up this guide to advertising law in China, it’s important to briefly mention what might happen if you don’t comply with the regulations in the region.
If advertisers do breach the Advertisement Law of the People’s Republic of China, they may face any of the following penalties (though this list is not exhaustive):
- Monetary fines which can range from 100,000 RMB (approximately 15,760 USD) to 1,000,000 RMB (157,600 USD).
- Financial penalties will continue to increase if advertisers repeatedly breach regulations or fail to meet compliance requirements.
- A brand’s advertising license can be revoked. If they have a Chinese business established, that can also lose its license.
Stay on the right side of regulation with AdChina
There’s no question that entering the Chinese market with your advertising campaigns can feel like an uphill battle. With so much regulation and red tape to contend with, you might feel like it’s not worth your time – but with a population of 1.41 billion, the opportunity is unquestionably enormous.
That’s why, instead of worrying about regulation, you should consider working with our expert team at AdChina.io. Whether you want to make inroads into the new InJobs app or explore any other advertising platforms in China, we’re here to help.
Get in touch now to book a demo of our platform and discover how we could help your business go east.