Following global trends, the concept of content marketing in China is hotter than ever before. Products are sold by selling stories. Enriched with humor and amusement, marketers are now storytellers, linking their brands and products to the most trending topics, fighting to reach the top ranks of search engine lists.
When paid advertising is used, both the channels and platforms will impose rather strict censorship against certain key words. However, when it comes to their own official websites, WeChat accounts and microblogs, vendors or sellers have control. This creative freedom comes with the risk of unintentionally using forbidden key words.
The sizzling “PG One” scandal that hit Estée Lauder not so long ago is a quintessential textbook case that brought copyright and IP issues into the spotlight.
While the line between acceptable and unacceptable marketing words or phrases can be blurry, we have compiled a list of prohibited words or sentences to serve as a practical guideline.
The purpose of prohibiting key words in Advertising Law is primarily to prevent sellers from using fake advertising to mislead consumers when purchasing products or services.
Advertisement censorship in China considers an advertisement fake if the products or services concerned relate to any of the four points below:
- Products / services that are effective under experimental environments, but whose effectiveness cannot be testified under practical daily application;
- Products / services where no industrial standard is available, or where industrial standards have been falsely quoted;
- Products / services whose scientific research results, statistical information, investigative data, article abstracts, quotations, etc. have been faked, forged or cannot be verified;
- The effects of the products or services received are overplayed or exaggerated;
After purchasing a product, if a consumer can testify that one of the aforementioned loopholes exists in the product purchased, he or she can file a claim to the industrial and commercial bureau against the fake advertisement of the seller. The consumer can take action by simply taking any word from the seller’s web page (in the form of a screen shot, for example) that is also listed in the following collections.
List of Chinese marketing terms (translated to English) that are banned in China:
- Words related with “the most”
Most, best, most equipped with, most beloved, most profitable, most excellent, most fantastic, biggest, highest extent, highest, highest level, highest end, most luxurious, lowest, lowest level, lowest price, deepest, cheapest, most fashionable with the cheapest price, most trendy, most popular, most concentrated, most compliant with, earliest, most advanced, most advanced science, most advanced processing, earliest enjoyment, last, last wave, latest technology, latest science.
- Words related with “number one”
Number one, number one in China, number one on the internet, number one in ranking, only, number one famous brand, NO 1, TOP 1, only, number one in whole country, first tier, single day, only once (one type), last wave, one of most famous brands in China.
- Words related with “level”
National level, national level product, global level, cosmic level, world level, top level (peak/pinnacle), ultimate level, extreme level.
- Words related with “first/national”
First, first choice, exclusive, exclusive recipe, first issuance, first issuance on the internet, first issuance in the nation, exclusive on XX network, first time, first type, number one in selling quantity in China, national level product, nation (national inspection exemption), leaders of the nation, filling up the blank in the nation, famous brand in China (famous brands), international quality.
- Words related to the notion of a brand
Big brand, gold brand, famous brand, top brand, leading brand, world-leading, substantially more advanced, leader, founder, creative and leading brand, first on the market, famous star, celebrated, master, invincibility, pinnacle, luxury, excellent, leader, king of, winner, champion.
- Words related with false expressions
Non-parallel in history, unprecedented, forever, omnipotent, family legacy, special effect, invincible, completely natural, 100%, high end, authentic product, real leather, super bargain, precise.
- Words with authority related expressions
Aged brand, famous trademark of China, exclusive offering, specified offering, expert recommendation, quality inspection exemption, no need of national quality inspection, sampling test exemption, recommended by the national leader of XX, recommended by the XX governmental institute, use of RMB currency pattern (except being approved by the central bank)
- Words which may mislead or trick consumers
Click for drawing a lottery, congratulations for the awards, free for everyone, click for a surprise, click to win, click to turn your body, click to try the clothes, click to overturn, pick the prize.
- Words which overtly seduce consumers
Instant purchase, explosive purchase, none comes after this, no way to be cheaper, become XX without it, window of opportunities closes by missing this, thousands jostling for this, everyone vying for this, frenzy selling/buying.
- Words relating to time
Time limit must be marked with concrete time schedule (currently used by JD), today, this very day, days and nights, countdown, for now, just, only limited to, weekend, anniversary, big discount coupon, large shopping initiative, brand group, high end group, single product group (must be noted with activity timeline).
- Other forbidden words
End at any time; the price increases at any time; the price will decrease immediately.
All the above words are listed in the Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, which has been in force since September 1st, 2015.
This is the first time the advertising law has been revised in the last twenty years. The revision was highly extensive, involving the clarification of definitions, and it made specific references to common representations of fake advertising. The new Advertising Law created new legal obligations and responsibilities for advertisers and marketers, and reinforced the need for supervision and censorship of mass media advertising.
Some prohibited advertisements are categorized as “illegal” which is a more serious status than the previous status of being “in breach of regulation”. This is a controversial issue in many industrial sectors, where a large number of companies have voiced their opposition to such stringent laws. The growing mentality is that advertising is now becoming an impossible business to be involved in.
In the life of China’s millions of conspicuous consumers, many purchasers are indeed willing to part with their hard-earned money upon hearing words such as “best”, “finest”, “exclusive” or “advanced”. On a related subject, many professional anti-counterfeit activists are also a growing force in the market. To reap the benefits from the punishments advertisers can face – between 200,000 – 1,000,000 RMB in penalties, nitpicking internet counterfeit fighters will be more than willing to survey your official website and fish out words which contravene the Advertising Law, and use this as leverage to receive a payout from you, at the threat of being reported to the authorities.
The pressure to get it right is high. Pay attention to the wording and phrasing on your website, and ensure you avoid using the forbidden words stipulated in the Advertising Law.
Advertisement censorship in China: How to make sure you use the right words
With so many forbidden key words, we recommend using this online tool to help you stay on the right side of China’s Advertising Law. (http://www.jinyongci.com/).
Here is how it works:
When you follow the link, you will see the dictionary-like window where you can input your Chinese key words – and if the words stay in black colour – it is “legal”. On the example below we have used the word 漂亮 （piaoliang) – beautiful, which passed the censorship and is ready to be used. Press the blue button with the magnifier to launch the check.
However, if you insert one of the forbidden terms they will turn red. In the example below we used the word 最好 (zuihao) – ‘the best’, one of the words restricted by the new law.
The above list of forbidden marketing terms is not exhaustive, and is simply a guideline. The content of this article must not be considered as legal advice; we recommend seeking proper legal advice to ensure full compliance with Chinese advertising law.