Just when you think things are advancing, along comes an advertising campaign like the one for the Five Doctors collagen peptide drink in China. A series of adverts shown on digital billboards in residential buildings urged women to consume the product for its purported anti-ageing properties in order to appease angry husbands.
The advertising firm Red Dates Culture Company has been fined 480,000 yuan (US$67,000) and the company itself 400,000 yuan for breaching rules upholding “good social customs”. But that's unlikely to end the use of sexist tropes in Chinese advertising (see our pick of the best billboard advertising for better approaches).
虚假宣传，贩卖焦虑，侮辱女性，五个女博士被立案调查 pic.twitter.com/nrofWxunFeMay 13, 2023
The ads for the Five Doctors collagen drink claimed that the product would help women look younger, affirming that “one bottle of this drink is equal to six facial masks”. Various versions of the ad saw female actors deliver lines like “My husband is mad at me. Drink!" "Stay up late to watch TV series. Drink!" "I'm one year older. Drink." However, China's marketing supervision authority found there was no evidence for the product's claimed anti-ageing and skin-whitening properties.
The Five Doctors brand makes much of the fact that it was founded by five women who received PhDs from the Peking University Health Science Centre, often using the slogan "women know women better" (see its presentation on its Singapore Twitter account below).
It has apologised for the ads, saying: “We will adamantly correct our mistake and make a sincere apology to the public for the vicious impacts caused by our advertisement." However, many of its other ads specifically urge professional women to drink its product to reduce the effect that their work may have on their appearance.
Why choose to make collagen peptides?#fivedoctors #五个女博士 #collagen #胶原蛋白 #maintenance #antiaging #collagenpeptide #beauty #skincare #girls #age #oral pic.twitter.com/hM57rKAHGQJune 6, 2023
30+ girls must watch this video#fivedoctors #五个女博士 #collagen #maintenance #skincare #vcdrink #improvesleep #beautysecret #health #beauty pic.twitter.com/tkuY07VAwXJuly 28, 2023
The recent fine may hardly equate to the amount of exposure the drink has received through the controversial campaign, even if the exposure has been mainly negative. And it's just the latest in many recent sexist adverts in China.
The Chinese English-language website The World of Chinese has listed several examples of highly questionable campaigns, ranging from apparent apologies for male stalking to denigrations of women who don't remove body hair. Some of them have resulted in fines, while others appear to have gained less attention. The article notes that Chinese advertising law does ban gender discrimination but says that there is ambiguity because regulations have not defined what kind of content should be classed as discriminatory.