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China Marketing & Advertising

15 Chinese Ad Campaigns That Make Abortion Procedures Look Glamorous

With pink flowers and dreamlike imageries, these prevalent advertisements promise Chinese women a fast and ‘glamorous’ abortion.

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From bus stops to magazines, advertisements of clinics promising women a ‘fast’ and ‘painless’ abortion are commonplace in China, sending out the message that terminating a pregnancy is as easy as getting your nails done.

When it is rush hour in Beijing, street marketers often pass out flyers to people around busy subway stations. Most of the time, these pamphlets promote a new neighborhood restaurant or an upcoming real estate project.

Often, however, they promote abortion procedures at a local clinic. The pink and shiny ad campaigns advertise their abortion procedures in similar ways as beauty parlors or nail salons would market their services – a phenomenon which would be unimaginable in many western countries.

China’s “Abortion Culture”

The legal and moral obstacles to abortion that are ubiquitous in the US or elsewhere are much less pervasive in China, a country that has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, approximately 13 million abortions are carried out in China every year (Yang 2015).

The actual number, however, is probably much higher. The official figures do not include the abortion statistics from private clinics, nor the estimated 10 million induced abortions per year through medicine (Xinhua 2014), let alone the numbers of sex-selective abortions– a practice that has officially been illegal since 2004.

There are various reasons why China’s abortion rates are so high. In “Women’s Health and Abortion Culture in China: Policy, Perception, and Practice,” author Naomi Bouchard describes how the “visible abortion culture” in China today is an (indirect) consequence of the 1979 Family Planning Policy (better known as the One-Child Policy), family pressure, traditional values, and insufficient sexual education (2014, 2).

Especially the last dimension leads to unplanned pregnancies, notably in young women. According to official data, 4% of China’s unmarried female teenagers experience an unplanned pregnancy, with 90% of them ending in abortion (Pan 2013). According to a doctor quoted in Bouchard’s study, it is both lack of knowledge as well as embarrassment about buying condoms or other contraceptives that contributes to unplanned pregnancies in young women (2014, 17).

Thriving Abortion Industry

Besides the social factors that play an important role in China’s “abortion culture,” there is also the legal aspect that makes abortion procedures relatively common in the PRC. Unlike many other countries, China allows abortion for any reason (Theodorou & Sandstrom 2015).

The upper limit for legal abortions depends on circumstances. According to Hemmenki et al (2005), China’s 1979 abortion law sets 28 weeks of gestation as the upper limit for pregnancy termination, although some provinces “have made their own laws stipulating the place and performer of the abortion.” Other literature suggests that there is no limit fixed by statue (Jackson 2013, 423), and that abortions can take place up to the ninth month if the pregnancy is affected by severe anomalies (Deng et al 2015, 312).

All the aforementioned components have led to the existence of a thriving medical industry focused on abortion procedures in China, which comes with a strong commercial marketing of these procedures – advertised anywhere from bus stops to magazines and through flyers.

Scroll through the slider below (move arrows below) to see a selection of 15 advertisements for abortion procedures. The majority of these ads use the color pink and show young women either by themselves or with their partner. Besides addressing the women, their slogans also often speak to their partners (“If you love her, give her the best“).

This ad by Jinzhong Friendship Hospital offers the service of “Korea JRS’s dream abortions,” persuading people to choose for their services with the underline: “You love her, give her the best.” The main slogan says: “Bye bye pain, hello happiness.”

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“Bye bye pain, hello happiness!”

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Will Kemp

    December 13, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Generally a wonderful article but the section where you say that condom ads are banned in China isn’t accurate. I live in Chongqing and I can’t move for Durex Air ads at the moment. There’s a video ad in the lift of my apartment building and its being shown before films in the cinema too. Perhaps there was a change in the law?

  2. moxy

    March 8, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    I know this article was posted quite a while ago, but I feel like the biggest issue you didn’t hit on is that for many of the unmarried women who get pregnant, there’s really not a choice.

    If they’re unmarried, and have a kid, that child will never have a Hukou, and is pretty much considered (in the eyes of the government) to be an underworld baby. The child won’t be able to attend school or get any medical, and without initially having a hukou, they can’t do anything to change hukous later on, so pretty much fucked for life.

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China Marketing & Advertising

When Ad Breaks Get Weird: Branded Content in Chinese TV Dramas Is Ruining It For the Viewers

China’s ubiquitous inserted ad marketing is alienating viewers from their favorite TV drama characters.

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Ad breaks can be annoying, but when it’s the main character of your favorite historical drama promoting the latest smartphone, it can actually ruin the viewer experience. In recent online discussions, China’s ubiquitous ‘Inserted Ad Marketing’ (中插广告), that goes beyond product placement, is being attacked by netizens and media.

A 2017 Ad Age article on the high levels of branded content in China’s online TV argues that Chinese viewers generally do not mind embedded marketing. They have allegedly become so used to to all kinds of branded distractions in TV shows, dramas, and films, that it is just “another part of the entertainment” (Doland 2017). But recent discussions on Chinese social media signal that the general sentiments regarding inserted sponsored content are changing.

On January 6, Chinese author Ma Boyong (@马伯庸, 4.5 million followers) posted an article on Weibo in which he criticized the phenomenon of inserted ad content in Chinese television series, saying the marketing style often does not suit the characters and is making the actors less credible.

Although Ma does not oppose to embedded marketing per se, he argues it hurts the credibility of TV dramas and the viewer’s experience when it does not blend in with the style of the TV drama and its characters.

One of the TV dramas where the sponsored segments ‘hurt’ the show, according to Ma, is Mystery of Antiques (古董局中局, 2018) that is based on one of the author’s novels. The actor Qiao Zhenyu (乔振宇), who plays the leading role, allegedly “looks like a fool” because of the inserted ad.

The type of advertising, that is central to this recent discussion, goes beyond product placement; it is the type of ad that appears inside (online) TV shows in which the actors, in character, straightforwardly promote a certain brand and product, sometimes in a scene dialogue (‘storyline ads’), but also often while looking directly into the camera (see example here or here, Chinese term: zhōngchā guǎnggào 中插广告).

The hashtag ‘Ma Boyong Roasts Inserted Ad Marketing’ (#马伯庸吐槽中插广告#) had received more than 50 million views on Weibo by Sunday night, with the overall majority of people supporting the author’s stance.

“Finally someone says this,” one commenter said: “When it just started out, it was new, and I could endure it, but now it just really annoys me.” “It is really disruptive,” others agree.

 

A New Kind of Money-Making Machine

 

China’s history of TV advertisement is not a long one; it wasn’t until 1979 that China’s first TV commercial was aired. Since then, the industry has blossomed, and branded content has become ubiquitous; the first TV drama incorporating product placement was broadcasted in 1991 (Li 2016).

Product placement is known as a powerful marketing tool since it is inescapable, has a long shelf life, is inexpensive, and unobtrusive (Huan et al 2013, 508). But as China’s product placement has been turning into ‘branded entertainment’ within the settings of the show, it is losing its ‘unobtrusiveness.’

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time this type of advertising receives criticism. In 2017, various Chinese media, such as People’s Daily, noted the rise of inserted product ads, stating that TV dramas were “shooting themselves in the foot” with these ad campaigns.

China’s popular ‘inserted ad breaks’ remind of the weird and obvious product placement mocked in The Truman Show (1998).

When the protagonist of a dynastic costume drama suddenly promotes a new smartphone app during an inserted ad break, he falls out of character, and the entire drama loses credibility. Do you remember those weird ad breaks in the famous American movie The Truman Show? Even Truman did not fall for that!

Cartoon by People’s Daily

In China, this particular type of advertising can be traced back to the 2006 TV drama My Own Swordsman (武林外传), in which the characters suddenly turn to the camera in promoting a “White Camel Mountain” medicinal powder (watch the famous segment here).

Although that scene was for entertainment purposes only (the product was non-existent), it became reality in 2013, when the TV series Longmen Express (龙门镖局) first started using this kind of ‘creative’ advertising. Many online dramas then followed and started to use these inserted ads, especially since 2015 (Beijing Daily 2017). The promoted products are often new apps or money lending sites.

In the beginning, many people appreciated the novel way of advertising, and as the online video industry rose, so did the price of such advertisements. In a timeframe of roughly two years, their price became ten times higher. These type of ‘ad breaks’ have become an important and relatively easy money-making machine for drama productions (Beijing Daily 2017). In 2016 alone, Chinese TV drama productions made 800 million rmb (±116 million USD) through this marketing method – a figure that has been on the rise ever since.

 

The V-Effect: From Vips to Verfremdung

 

In China’s flourishing online streaming environment, one of the problems with inserted ad campaigns is that even ‘VIP members’ of popular video sites such as iQiyi cannot escape them, nor ‘skip’ them, even though they pay monthly fees to opt out of commercials (similar to YouTube Premium).

“The reason I signed up for a VIP membership is to avoid ads, and now we get this,” many annoyed netizens comment on Weibo.

Although that is one point that many people are dissatisfied with, the biggest complaint on social media regarding the inserted ad phenomenon is that it breaks down audience engagement in the show they are watching, and alienates them from the character, which is also known as verfremdungseffekt, distancing effect, or simply the ‘V-effect,’  a performing arts concept coined by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in the 1930s.

The “direct adress” of Frank Underwood in House of Cards is one of the reasons the show became such a hit.

The Brechtian “direct address” technique, one of the characteristics that made the American TV series House of Cards so successful, is employed to “break the fourth wall” – the imaginary wall between the actors and audience  – and serves a clear purpose: it makes viewers less emotionally attached to the characters and the narrative, it makes them more conscious and less likely to ‘lose themselves’ in the show they are watching, and is meant to provoke a social-critical audience response.

But this is exactly the faux pas China’s ubiquitous ‘creative inserted ads’ make in letting popular TV drama characters promote a new app or soda; it is not meant to provoke a social-critical response, it is meant to advertise a product. But by alienating audiences from the show for a commercial and non-meaningful purpose, they actually reach the opposite effect of what their marketing objective is. Audiences become annoyed, less engaged, and ‘exit the show’ (in Chinese, the term ‘出戏’ [disengage from the performance] is used).

“These kind of ads make the entire drama seem so low,” a typical comment on Weibo says. “What can we do? As long as people pay for it, they’ll do it,” others say.

Despite the recent attack on China’s ‘branded entertainment,’ there is no sign of a change in these marketing techniques. Perhaps, if critique persist, this might change in the future. For now, disgruntled viewers turn to social media to vent their frustrations: “These ads completely make me lose interest in the story, they need to be criticized. I’m happy someone stood up to say it.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Beijing Daily (北京日报). 2017. “创意中插广告泛滥,唯独缺了创意” [The Overflow of Creative Inserted Ads, Only They’re Lacking Creativity] (in Chinese). Beijing Daily, Oct 18. Available online http://bjrb.bjd.com.cn/html/2017-10/18/content_183998.htm [Jan 6th 2019].

Doland, Angela. 2017. “China’s online TV pushes product placement to crazy levels. Even crazier: Viewers don’t mind.” Ad Age, May 16. Vol.88(10), p.0030.

Huan Chen , En-Ying Lin , Fang Liu & Tingting Dai. 2013. “‘See Me or Not, I Am There’: Chinese White-Collar Moviegoers’ Interpretation of Product Placements in Chinese Commercial Movies.” Journal of Promotion Management, 19:5, 507-533.

Li, Hongmei. 2016. Advertising and Consumer Culture in China. Cambridge: Polity Press.


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China Marketing & Advertising

When Hotpot Gets Really Hot: Haidilao Customers Shocked by Steamy TV

Haidilao is taking its customer service to a whole new level.

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First published .

Customers dining at a Haidilao hotpot restaurant in Wuhan on January 5th were shocked when the big television screen in the restaurant, usually used for showing Haidilao ads, suddenly showed an X-rated film.

Haidilao is China’s most famous hotpot chain, and is usually known for its excellent service. On busy nights, people stand in line for hours at the Haidilao restaurants, that are always packed full of people enjoying the good food and outstanding hospitality.

The incident, that happened on Saturday afternoon at the restaurant’s Great Ocean mall location, has now made its rounds on Chinese social media after one Haidilao customer shared photos of the embarrassing moment on Weibo. At time of writing, the hashtag “Haidilao TV shows vulgar scene” (#海底捞电视播不雅画面#) has received more than 240 million views.

Waiters at the restaurant were fast to turn off the television. According to some online reports, a reporter visited the restaurant a few hours after the incident happened, and confirmed the television was still turned off at night.

On Sunday, January 6, Haidilao issued a statement in which the restaurant apologized to the customers for the “vulgar content” that was displayed on the television, and that police are investigating the case. Online pornography is banned in China, and spreading X-rated films is illegal.

It is yet unsure how the film ended up on the restaurant’s screen, and whether it was a Haidilao employee who was watching the video and then made a mistake, or that a customer was using IR or Bluetooth on their smartphone and (purposely) connected it to their screen.

The incident has provoked hilarity on social media, where some netizens suggest that the X-rated film perhaps was a “customer demand” and that “Haidilao’s service is beyond expectations,” or that people were “eating and getting hard.”

The incident, as of now, does not seem to negatively affect people’s love for the Haidilao brand. “Please don’t close it down, I still want to eat hotpot,” some netizens comment, while others simply state: “Haidilao, I’m coming!”

(PS Want to know more about steamy hotpots? Check out What’s on Weibo’s sister site Hotpot Ambassador!)

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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