x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Advertisers need to be cautious in China

While the advertising industry in China has hurtled into the digital age, companies have to be careful not to overstep the boundaries.

While the advertising industry in China has hurtled into the digital age, companies have to be careful not to overstep the boundaries.

Dr Junsong Chen, a lecturer in marketing at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, says Chinese tastes are "still conservative compared with western countries", mirroring the situation in the Middle East.

He adds that in China, "you still try to avoid using sex appeal, particularly on television".

Sometimes foreign humour in Chinese adverts has not worked well because people in different cultures often find different things funny, he says.

"If foreign companies have adverts related to Chinese culture they might think it's humour but Chinese people take it very seriously," Dr Chen says.

In the fiercely patriotic country, advertisers must be wary of insulting or appearing to insult the domestic heritage. A 2004 Nike advert in which a US basketball star fought a kung fu artist was banned as some felt it suggested overseas influences were defeating Chinese culture.

"With a Chinese company, the public are not very sensitive but with a foreign company they are," says Dr Chen.

Even advertising outside China can cause controversy. Citroen withdrew a Spanish newspaper advert that featured a digitally manipulated picture in which Mao Zedong looked disapprovingly at one of the company's vehicles.

"When the Chinese public knew of this, they felt very offended because they don't think the company should make fun of Chinese leaders," Dr Chen says.

business@thenational.ae