L'Oreal China found itself on the defensive this week over a RMB200,000 (US$28,455) fine for false advertising, assessed in June by authorities in the western Chinese city of Chongqing.
At issue, an in-shop ad for one of the company's Biotherm products. The authorities cited the ad in 2018 and levied the fine in June of this year. But the issue rose to prominence this week after the Chongqing Market Supervision and Administration Bureau included the case in a top 10 list of typical advertising offenses that it published on WeChat on Monday.
That led to nearly 30,000 posts discussing the issue on Weibo, which, in turn, led L'Oreal to speak to media reporters on the matter. The company was quoted as saying it responded to the complaint promptly back in 2018, immediately withdrawing the publicity materials in question. The company also said it conducted a comprehensive investigation of internal and external issues to ensure more rigorous control and auditing of the wording used in promo materials.
The printed ad for Biotherm Life Plankton Essence, which appeared at a departmet store L'Oreal counter, promised that anyone using the product for eight days would experience a "miracle" of skin renewal.
A rough translation of the ad text reads:
Using French Biotherm for 8 days, the skin looks like a newborn. Elasticity, translucence. ... Regardless of age, regardless of skin condition, 8 days and skin is like a newborn. Favourite choice of the stars. Everyone witnesses 8 days of miracle. Skin problems are solved together. 68,800 people have witnessed the miracle water brought about skin renewal ... "
The Chongqing Market Supervision and Administration Bureau found that the work had “the effect of using goods in a fictitious manner” and violated the provisions of Article 28, paragraph 2 (d), of the Advertising Law of the People's Republic of China.
Weibo comments in reaction to the issue included complaints that the effectiveness of most skincare products is exaggerated and that RMB200,000 is nothing for L'Oreal. Others said it was good to know authorities are supervising the market at least to some extent.
Like most cosmetics companies, L'Oreal has been dinged by authorities for advertisements before. Campaign China has found that L'Oreal China has also received multiple administrative penalties from Shanghai regulatory authorities for "false advertising" and "false publicity". In August it was fined about RMB209,500 (US$29,800) and in October it was docked RMB100,000 (US$14,225). In the past, authorities in Sweden and the UK have also penalised the company for trangressions such as exaggerated claims and excessive photo retouching.