Many people know the internet is a hot spot for rogue outfits selling unsafe and untested medications for things such as weight loss, sexual dysfunctions and hair loss. But what about TV adverts? A large number of Chinese consumers are complaining about deceptive direct-response ‘infomercials’ – late night adverts for products which are promoted by young, confident TV presenters.
Last year the authorities in Shanghai received over 4,226 complaints about infomercials. This equates to a 30-fold increase on the number of complaints in 2004. The statistics come from Shanghai’s industry and commerce bureau. More than 3,000 people registered their disapproval in the first quarter of 2009, an increase of 28% on the same period in 2008.
Products that have been found to be fake include mobile phones and medications. Clothes have also been sold at misleading prices. The best advice for those considering going online to buy hair loss treatments is to make sure that the medications come from a registered pharmacy and that you can verify the details. The Belgravia Centre has two Central London hair loss clinics with clients based worldwide; the centre has in-house registered pharmacies in both centres which can dispense clients’ treatments and mail them to almost any country.
Zhang Shuting, a professor in advertising at Communication University of China in Beijing, said purchases from infomercials accounted for upto 60% of all television retail sales each year and that the figure is increasing. However, unlike in the United States, Britain or Japan, where infomercials also run, Chinese buyers are rarely able to obtain refunds for poor quality goods because advertisers don’t usually give customers their real contact details.
Each day, around 200 million people watch TV in China. A 2006 study by CTR Market Research in Beijing found that 94% of all infomercials are aimed at housewives watching daytime TV and people who watch late-night TV. The survey also revealed that less than 50% of the consumers polled were happy with their purchases from direct-response television.
The China Consumers’ Association (CCA) last study, in 2006, found that infomercials made up 61% of all “illegal” advertising – when the products promoted are of poor quality – on 30 major television channels across China. Media experts say that the reason that companies get away with these activities is because advertising standards is a remit that is governed by too many government departments, including the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC), and State Administration of Radio, Television and Film (SARFT).
Despite a ruling, from August 2008, to ban TV and radio infomercials to promote medicine or medical devices, as well as products that promise weight loss, height gain or bigger breasts, many TV channels continued to run adverts for these products and 12 stations were issued warnings by the authorities as a result.
Part of the problem of enforcing the ruling is that infomercials are, at present, classified as television “shows”, which means they are not required to meet the nation’s advertising standards. However, that will be rectified from 1st January 2010, according to a second notice by the administration on 21st September of this year. This notice led to many stations banning all direct-response advertising despite the loss of revenue this entails.
But some who work in the media are not sure it will have the desired effect. Gong Zhiwei, a Beijing-based advertising agent, works with dozens of provincial television stations and says his clients often run commercials, phone lines and distribution offices in three different cities, making them hard to trace. If their adverts are taken off air, companies simply “skip town” and work from a new location under a new name.
In response, the authorities have stepped up their game and now, before airing, stations are required to check the companies have fixed head offices where they can be traced and have paid a capital fee of at least 10 million yuan. The stations are being urged to refuse advertisers that have been found guilty of fraud in the last three years.
However, infomercials continue to run and include promotions for hair loss creams and mobile phones (which are usually pirated copies of brands such as Nokia, Apple and Motorola).
Despite the CCA publicly condemning 58 illegal infomercials in September, none of the advertisers were punished despite the Law on Advertising that states that violators should face heavy fines. Zeng Jingping, an expert with the China TV Sales Research and Development Centre, was quoted as saying: “China has a huge potential market for TV shopping but we need better regulation to make sure products are genuine.”
While some media experts and consumers want the option of direct-response advertising, not all TV viewers are convinced. A 2008 consumer study run by Beijing-based media research organisation CSM showed only 17% trust direct-response advertisements and over 94% of viewers aged 25 to 60 immediately switch channels when they see an infomercial.
If you are interested in treating hair loss, then the Belgravia Centre can offer a high quality and reliable service. As well as an international mail order treatment service (which can be accessed by completing the online diagnostic form), the Belgravia Centre also offers consultations in London. If you would like to have a diagnosis for thinning hair or hair loss and discuss treatment options, contact the centre for a free appointment by calling 020 7730 6666 or messaging the centre.