2. Censorship rules are vague and subject to
interpretation. But they're enforced.
"Nobody knows exactly what the censorship rules are. But any time
an ad violates a Confucian code ... about how people should relate
to each other and society, it will get rejected," Mr. Doctoroff
said. For example, students don't challenge teachers, "and under no
circumstances should you have an alternative center of power," Mr.
A JWT ad for Pizza Hut in 2000 featured a student proclaiming
the tastiness of the Edge pizza. It was pulled because it
represented an alternative power center. Two years before, JWT
reshot an 1987 ad in which Michael J. Fox dashes out to buy Diet
Pepsi, but had to
ensure that its Chinese actor observed traffic signals.
Mr. Doctoroff is waiting on a review of a Samsonite spot with a
doctor traveling in a van labeled with a red cross. "My bet is it
won't be allowed," he said.
3. Be prepared when your brand is sucked into
politically sensitive news events.
online ecosystem can cause situations to spin out of control
quickly. Most users of leading microblogging platforms Sina Weibo
and Tencent Weibo (each reports more than 300 million users) post
mundane details of their lives, but some scour the web for news,
tips and rumors. With no free press, microblogs are a key source of
Last month, a Ferrari crashed in Beijing at 4 a.m., the $700,000
car ripping in half. The driver died and two female passengers were
injured. Police refused to comment, fueling speculation that the
victims were from politically powerful families. To throttle
chatter, censors deleted news stories and microblog posts about the
"Ferrari" remains a banned search term on microblogs. (A link to
Ferrari China's Weibo appears above the line "In accordance with
relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for
"Ferrari' cannot be shown.") Ferrari did not respond to a question
about how the ban has affected its online marketing.
4. The rules of online can change.
"The internet in China fills a unique vacuum here, where
entertainment is not very entertaining," said Sam Flemming, founder
and chairman of social-media research and consulting firm CIC.
"News also may not be as newsworthy as consumers may want. So the
internet is a little bit wilder, a little bit more interesting than
mainstream media. ... Weibo in particular is the most interesting
platform for entertainment and newsworthy content."
But the flip side of Weibo and its huge user base is that
Beijing is figuring out how best to regulate it. In addition to
banning sensitive terms, Tencent and Sina suddenly shut down the
comment function on their Weibo platforms for four days recently
after widespread but unsubstantiated rumors of a coup in
The government has also issued a rule requiring microblog users
to register their real names and national ID numbers with the
website operator. So far, compliance appears to be low. It's not
clear whether authorities will carry through with the plan, but
some point to potential upsides for marketers. Numbers provided by
digital-media outlets are notoriously unreliable, and better
reporting would improve measurement, as well as weed out "zombie"
followers that can be purchased cheaply to make a user (or brand)
seem more popular.
5. China has a terrible food-safety record but takes
food safety very seriously.
Last month, two multinational companies were singled out by state
TV for alleged food-safety violations: A McDonald's in
Beijing was accused of selling chicken wings 90 minutes after they
were cooked, violating company policy allowing only 30 minutes to
pass. And employees at a Carrefour store in central China were
accused of changing expiration dates on chicken and selling
ordinary poultry as more expensive free-range birds.