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Advertising for toothpaste features models with bright, white teeth. That’s just a given. But if the advertising reveals unnaturally white teeth, beyond what could possibly be achieved by a toothpaste, is that false advertising?

Korean student smiling on campusReal-world practices in many countries suggest that it isn’t a problem. But in China, whose expanding consumer market has become an increasingly appealing target for advertisers, the central government is working to crack down on what it considers misleading advertising that overpromises what the featured products can do. Thus it fined Crest, the toothpaste brand owned by Procter & Gamble, close to US$1 million for using digital tools to retouch photos and make the models’ teeth look whiter than they actually were.

Crest is not the only company to come under fire in China, nor is China the only nation to express concerns about the extent to which advertisers can falsify images. For example, China has also critiqued Nikon, Apple, and Volkswagen for failing to meet its standards. Moreover, makers of personal care products (e.g., makeup, shampoo) have come under fire in various nations for suggesting outcomes in their advertisements that are impossible without further manipulation.

Thus for global consumer goods brands, the question of international standardization has taken on a new note. They must determine not only if they will change their products for each nation they enter but also how they need to adjust their marketing and advertising strategies to align with each country’s distinct rules and standards for truth in advertising.

Discussion Question:

Why might China’s government be cracking down on misleading advertising?


Source: “Crest Is Fined Nearly $1 Million in China,” The New York Times, March 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com