Unilever's 'Sex Symbol' Ads Faze Chinese Censors

17 March 2008

BEIJING: The Chinese regime's attempts to keep sex under the covers and prevent the passions of its citizens from becoming inflamed could have unfortunate consequences for Unilever.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has banned TV and print images of actor Tang Wei (pictured), the face of the consumer goods giant's big-selling Pond's skincare brand.

Wei, the star of director Ang Lee's explicit movie Lust, Caution, of which the Chinese authorities thoroughly disapprove, was chosen to represent Pond's in a reported $845,000 (€543m; £417.7m) deal to upscale the brand across Asia.

Unilever China maintains its ads have already been approved by a different government agency. All advertising is vetted by censors prior to appearing in the media.

A company spokesman added: "The advertising itself was produced and distributed in accordance with Chinese rules and regulations. Government approval was received before distribution and airing. 

"We have not received any official notice for the ban and we are currently trying to ascertain what lies at the root of the issue. The Pond's contract with Tang Wei remains intact."

The agencies that handle the Pond's creative and media business in China, Ogilvy & Mather and MindShare, reman diplomatically silent.

SARFT has also instructed awards events in China to exclude the actor and the film's producers from their guest lists.

Movies are also censored and frequently cut if they offend political sensibilities or are deemed to be "lewd and pornographic" or contain other "wanton values".

Data sourced from AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff