China Bans NIKE commercial as national insult!

Posted: October 10, 2010 in COM 101 current issues

Advertisements have bombarded in every minute of our lives, from washing detergents to TV dramas. According to studies an average American comes across 1000 ads on a daily basis. Media awareness has created importance of advertisements in our lives, from persuasion to informative. Today I am going to forward an interesting article about banned advertisements that most of us are unaware. In a fast moving corporate world, advertisers do actually cross the line of ethics and morality and forget about the human essentials of culture.

Culture is a shared set of values, norms, goal that is usually practiced in an organization, group or a society. Different culture exists in different parts of the world. Culture is represented through art, literature, costumes, customs, food, music and traditions in different community. Secondly understanding the importance of culture, how culture gives a unique identity of its own.  Culture is shared and passed from older to younger generation, to understand culture it’s translated into symbols. Religion, art, language is been the essential means of transfer of cultural values amongst generations.  Culture bonds a tie in people of a community together, culture is one symbol that brings people together.  We can always notice through the traditions and customs that people are recognized through their festival, food, clothes and cultural values they share together. Most importantly culture is like a principle and a philosophy that links people together.

According to Hofstede, culture is the “collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another…includes system of values and values are among the building blocks of culture”.

Furthermore, Cultural values provide the context within which a society’s norms are established and justified

Let’s take a look at a commercial that violated the society’s norm, hence banned!

China banned a Nike television commercial titled “Chamber of Fear” which was broadcasted on the local Chinese stations and on state television’s national sports channel as the commercial insults national dignity. 

It shows James, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ reigning NBA rookie of the year, defeating the kung fu master, a pair of dragons, and resisting the temptation of traditionally garbed women in a video game-style setting.

Such mockery of the Kungfu master is unacceptable intolerable and more so a taboo, because he is a well respected figure in the Chinese culture.  Moreover, the dragons are considered a sacred symbol in traditional Chinese culture.  Hence the Chinese cultural symbols are all defeated in the Nike advertisement.

China being a patriotic and conservative nation, will not tolerate such commercial which is seen as insulting, demeaning and disrespectful to the country’s pride.   

The advertisement “violates regulations that mandate that all advertisements in China should uphold national dignity and interest and respect the motherland’s culture,” the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television said on its Web site Monday.

“It also goes against rules that require ads not to contain content that blasphemes national practices and cultures.”

The commercial was intended for the James 19-year-old’s Air Zoom LeBron II sneakers on films featuring martial arts icon Bruce Lee.

Nike had to apologize for the embarrassment they bought to Chinese audience.


Relevance to class discussion

From the commercial it can also be seen that the marketer deliberately emphasized on the non verbal cue’s to communicate the message effectively to the audience. For example, the commercial resorted to vocal non verbal cues, namely vocalic (sound other than words) and Kinesics (body language) namely symbolic, affect displays and adaptors.  The reason behind resorting to non verbal cue is primarily because the commercial was targeted at the Chinese consumers- and China as a country is considered to be a high context culture, hence does not place much importance on the transmitted message, but instead focus on information on information programmed in the receiver and the setting, and places much importance on body language and non verbal cues. 

Subsequently China is also known as a collectivist society, whereby much of the country’s social behaviour is determined by the views, needs and goals of the in-groups (families, friends, love ones) rather than one self, and exert high level of interdependency.  For that matter I personally think this advertisement is not effective- besides violating the cultural aspect and offending the national pride, the advertisement also fails to take account the collectivism nature of the Chinese society, whereby the marketer should employ the use of groups’ i.e. (families) which would be more appealing to the Chinese consumers instead of an individual celebrity. 

So what do you guys think? Do you believe China is a collectivistic society or an individualistic society?

What are your suggestions- how would you advice marketers to successfully advertise in China? 

Overall what do really think about the commerical that was banned in china? Do you think the Chinese government over-reacted? or did they do the right think by banning the commercial?

  1. Jaspreet Singh Narula says:

    Again,thanks Manveena for an interesting blog.I must say i agree with you on how it is disrespectful to the Chinese nation. More ever,this advertisement is not effective at all.All you see is LeBron James just defeating the Kung Fu master and dragons.Also resisting the temptations of the ladies. Again,what is Nike trying to say with this advert?I watched the advert over 8 times,and still cannot understand it.As there is no meaning to it.Its as simple as that. I personally feel that Nike should have not used such an important figure like the Kung Fu master and more important the most known sacred Chinese symbol,the Dragon.What China did by banning the advert is right.As the advert has no meaning.So why advertise it in a nation that is conservative.However it is honorable that Nike came forward and apologized.

    • soni1220 says:

      Jaspreet- yes they had to come forth and appologize, if not i could only imagine a massive loss of market share in a booming economy, China which today is one of the leading import and export countries in the world. Many of Nike’s products are being manufactured there. So without question Nike had to apologize to the people of China for such a disrespectful act.I would advise marketers for future reference to learn and study more on the cultural values of China before advertising to avoid any offensive campaigns and enemity with any countries. And when marketers do it right,they gain more respect through the nation and the world for their work. Once again i agree that what the Chinese government did was the right thing to do- China is showing the world that they are a country that respects and will protect its morals,values,culture,icons and sacred symbols and will not tolerate any marketing advertisments etc that fails to respect its culture.

  2. suhel manchanda says:

    Manveena you did a amazing job, like they say sharing is caring, so most importantly sharing your stories with us about commercials like Nike shows us another side of the coin. There is alot of bad-ism circulating around the globe, but the worst is commercialism. I must say multinational firms have neglected ethics and moral values in the recent years.

    Especially firms like Nike have gone through alot of negative media awareness, firstly using child labor in south-east asian countires like vietnam,cambodia and laos in their manufacturing factory. Under paying children less than $1 a day shows how ruthless they are for profit maximaization. Secondly, bringing negative advertisments like Lebron James defeating Kung-fu master shows a complete disrespect. kung-fu being the fine chinese art for chinese people and their fans. Chinese government being the mediate did took the actions to ban the advertisment from going live. This shows how chinese protect their culture and integrity.

    Moreover, their collectivism shows strong unity and commitment to their culture. This sets a good example to alot of young and upcoming generation to see the difference between good and bad ethics. its a lesson to all corporate firms following this kind of practice.

    • soni1220 says:

      I agree with you suhel that there is alot of badism lurking around- however like you said there are always two sides to the coin- its how marketers choose to advertise their products is what matters. For example in this case, the marketers failed to respect the chinese culture hence the advertisment was banned in china- if comapnies continue to offend countries they will loose the respect in the eyes of consumers and ultimately this will impact consumers brand loyalty who would switch to competitors brand. Therefore I beleive it is very important for marketers and advertisers to be mindful of what the context of their advertisment, for nothing betters a company that has a good repuation in the eyes of the consumers.

  3. heena somani says:

    nike is brand that is known for its bold commercials, that manifest power and strength. the company personally believes in winning and not participating. keeping their mission in mind, their ad is not offensive.
    personally, i do not believe different cultures as somehow they divide people.
    however, keeping in mind that culture is what also defines people; marketers should be careful of their promotion strategies. their aim to sell the product profitably and not indulge in controversies.
    nike is the leading sports brand because of the power it shows, but the brand indulges in a lot of controversies. market research is something they must thoroughly work on. the company must segment themselves according to markets. one cannot expect the same products to be success in different parts of the world. similarly, this ad is likely to be offensive to china. it is important to satisfy all, and offend none.
    it is definitely offensive to Chinese culture. hence banning the ad is just a way of protecting their culture; which is justified.

  4. soni1220 says:

    True, Nike like many other MNC’s strive to win- be ahead of its competitors even if it has to compromise on its ethics and values. However, many times they will not get away with such acts- for example in this case NIKE had to pay a costly price by offending the Chinese culture, and if measures are not taken in the future to prevent such acts that offend the national pride of ones’ country- NIKE will suffer a loss of market share in such countries, moreover consumers will switch to consuming products form its competitors- and NIKE will loose its brand loyal customers. Even though Nike had no intentions to offend the chinese consumers, they must take the extra effort to make sure that their advertisment are far from any sensitive issues. Hence investing heavily in R&D is very important for the company’s success and to maintain its competitive advatnage in the global environment, and ofcourse keep up the well-reputated brand image in the consumers eyes.

    • Witansa says:

      If we see the general society, will the Chinese people feel offended with this kind of advert? Only the Chinese government that always filter anything that penetrate into China for the ongoing flow of communism. It is the same as other adverts like what we saw from the class, the Toyota adverts that was banned due to the culture and ethic conflict. Or maybe if we look at google that tried to penetrate China’s market. The Chinese government also reject their presence in China. I believe as long as China still hold onto their communist system, their progress in any sector such as economy, lifestyle etc will move in only at slow pace.

  5. Jeevan says:

    I personally think the Chinese government was over reacting on this advert. I have seen cartoons on how the good defeats his enemy who most of the time are dragons or monsters that look like dragons.The kung fu master,yes it is a symbol to the chinese nation however,the advert was not as though the basketball player stripped him of his clothes. If the chinese government are so strict on things like this,they should ban cartoons coming to their country.the are simply over exaggerating. What do the girls have something to do with china other then that they are dressed wearing the traditional chinese costumes.NOTHING!I think this was a very short minded act that the chinese government did.i agree that a country would and will respect and uphold their morals and values but this was uncalled for.

    • Rumpy says:

      I do agree with you Jeevan at a point that there are many adverts on how dragons are being defeated and yes i have seen cartoons where a kung fu master is also defeated.Not only cartoons but also Hollywood movies like the karate kid or Rush hour where Jackie Chan is portrayed a kung fu master. he does get beaten up and down in the movie.but you do not see them banning that movie now do you.But the thing i disagree with you is that for the Chinese,their symbols are very important.Especially the dragon.for some countries,their symbols are very important and it is important that other countries and foreigners respect them when you are dealing or in another country.India,their main symbol is the cow.they treat cows there as a symbol of god.It is vital the companies market well and not insult sacred symbols.

  6. Arthur says:

    To insult a nation’s sacred symbols is a very disrespectful thing to do.One should never do that.As for Nike,most of their goods are being manufactured there.They should thank their stars that China did not stop them from producing anymore of their products.No,i do not think China over reacted,i think they did the right thing.And it was nice of Nike to apologize.

    • Ram says:

      Yes Arthur i do agree with you.I am from India and if someone or like this situation,a company were to insult my nation’s national symbols,i would not be pleased.i would be furious.China are just showing the world that they are a country that love and respect their national symbols.And they are not meant to be played or toyed around with.

      • Loui says:

        Agreed!China are just showing they will not tolerate such acts.I do not think they over reacted.I believe it is very important for marketers and advertisers to be mindful of what the context of their advertisement, for nothing betters a company that has a good reputation in the eyes of the consumers.Nike being such a recognised company,should have sat and thought properly on their advert.But atleast they apologised

  7. KDH says:

    I think Nike was simply trying to market their products. In the process, they obviously have offended the Chinese with such an advertisement. However, to know that Nike has aplogized, it kinda shows that they were not hurting the Chinese’s feelings intentionally.

  8. ssm says:

    Ban the capitalism world, they are terrible at what they do! seriously good for nothing! all that matters is their share price in the market and keeping the shareholders pocket healthy all the time. This is what their companies mission and vision statement is! Isnt it true?

  9. Poonam says:

    Any bad publicity is a good publicity, typical language in marketers dictionary. Nike (just do it) like they say, simply disrespected Kung- Fu art, for the sake of brand awareness. To he’ll with the advertisements moral value accounts more than money and company share value!

  10. Eddie says:

    I think the commercial on the youtube is really funny. No wonder China banned it as a national insult.
    The purpose of marketing is to impress and capture the audience not to offend potential clients in the market.
    This commerical may be very creative, but in the wrong way and defeats the purpose of marketing.

  11. Sruti says:

    China completely follows the socialist form of society….As a country, they are very sensitive towards anything that questions or mocks their culture or faith. So, their reaction to this advertisment was expected. However, i think they should be more open towards change rather being resistant…..We are a global world today.On the other hand, even the companies should be a bit more considerate and compassionate towards ones culture. Thus, this is a dicey topic to debate on.

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