China’s New Online Marketing Law

China online marketing law
Quick question: Do you market or advertise on Chinese websites? Did you know a new Chinese online marketing law went into effect on September 1, 2016?

According to Eugene Low, a partner at the Hong Kong office of Hogan Lovells, the previous regulations were “a bit piecemeal” and not precisely defined. This law changes all that.

A Short List Of China’s Digital Promotion Rules

Here’s a snapshot of China’s online marketing laws (some are old, others new):

  1. Acts of “online marketing” include electronic advertising, promotional emails, paid search results, links, and embedded media “with the purpose of promoting goods or services.”
  2. All paid and native advertising must be conspicuously marked as such.
  3. The Chinese government reserves the right to“guard against false and misleading practices.”
  4. Online ads for prescription medication and tobacco are prohibited.
  5. Sellers need government approval to run digital ads for medical supplies, pesticides, vet meds, and other categories of health products.
  6. All paid advertising must be clearly marked in search results.

Additionally, the Chinese government expects businesses to hire new employees to fulfill online marketing requirements and monitoring.

The Roots Of China’s New Online Marketing Law

Earlier in the year, a man suffering from a rare type of cancer died after participating in a hospital drug study advertised on the search engine Baidu. His death stirred controversy, and many citizens “accused Baidu of taking money to promote less proven treatments.” Even the Communist Party’s main newspaper, People’s Daily, tossed some shade Baidu’s way by publishing an article entitled Commentary: Death of college student raises questions on Baidu’s ethics. Here’s an excerpt:

“Companies that were involved in services that deal with human life should be particularly conscientious of their duties when conducting their businesses. Billions of net users trusted Baidu for their search engine and online forum services, the company is hence responsible for the trust and is obligated to taking up their social responsibilities.”

On account of the incident, search engines operating in China must now make sure SERP ad returns don’t exceed 30% of a page’s content.

Who Will Be Affected By China’s New Online Marketing Rules?

Are China’s new promotional laws going to disrupt the market? Probably not. Will they have AN impact? Sure. But a giant one? Unlikely.

China already enforces strict Internet regulations; this latest statute is simply the cherry-on-top — a finishing detail on the country’s longstanding conservative approach to mass media.
Will the online promotion standards impact profits? Maybe. Maybe not. This WSJ article explained:

[New] policies most likely won’t diminish businesses’ bottom lines because pay-for-click ads often run on a bidding system for a limited amount of space. Other analysts, however, said taxes for businesses may increase because the new rules clearly define paid-search results as advertisements.

Major Chinese Websites That Will Probably Be Affected By The New Online Marketing Laws

Chinese Website Revenue Private or Public Closest U.S. Equivalent (in focus, not valuation)
Baidu $9.9 billion – Dec 2015 Public – BIDU Google
Alibaba $15.1 billion – 2016 Public – BABA Amazon
Sina Weibo $482 million – 2011 (Entire Conglomerate) Public – WB Twitter
58.com $297.8 million – 2nd Quarter 2016 Public – WUBA Craigslist
Sohu $852 million – 2011 Public – SOHU Mix of Google and Twitch
Tencent Weibo $15.4 billion – 2015 (Entire Conglomerate) Public – TCEHY Twitter

Need assistance with a Chinese Internet law issue? Visit our friends at Harris / Moure.

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