In the aftermath of revisions to the PRC Advertisement Law in 2015 and to the Internet Advertising Measures end of 2016 we have noticed a recently increased government scrutiny of advertisement forms and contents used by foreign businesses in China.

Recent changes to local regulations about what is and what is not allowed as advertisement messages in China unfortunately went mostly unnoticed. Many international companies interacting with Chinese consumers have therefore missed to respond to these changes and update their internal guidelines and practices.

Multinational as well as medium sized consumer focused enterprises are therefore caught in surprise when Chinese regulators knock at their door, raise accusations of incompliance and demand apologies. Recent examples include international hotels and airlines who seem to have referred to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Tibet as "countries" on their websites, rather than "regions" of China. The CAAC has demanded an "immediate and public apology" from one concerned U.S. airline in this regard. The aviation authorities have requested all foreign airlines who fly to China to review their websites and related marketing and communication tools to ensure strict compliance with Chinese laws and regulations. Possibly worse than the regulatory headaches of such incident are the worldwide headlines and negative PR it created.

While other foreign consumer facing businesses tend to have substantial operations in China which need to be supported by strong local compliance teams, foreign airlines tend to approach local markets by electronic means from their headquarters. They nevertheless need to have a close look at their consumer communication and marketing policies and consider:

  • What content is considered as "advertisement"?
  • What content is considered as "internet advertisement"?
  • How shall your advertisement look and what messages are permissible?
  • What to do if under investigation?