China Needs a War on Infomercials

Photograph by Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

From worries about tainted infant milk formulas, to defective automobiles, to prematurely crumbling buildings, China in recent years has faced a range of lightning-rod consumer safety issues. As of yet, though, no powerful advocate comparable to Ralph Nader in the U.S. has been allowed to emerge.

The latest evidence of consumer angst in China comes in the form of a People’s Daily poll. According to the online poll, which China’s leading state-run newspaper conducted with a local polling agency, 45 percent of shoppers who purchased products advertised in TV infomercials said they were in some way cheated. Of those, just 8.3 percent even bothered to try to recoup overcharges or return defective products because of the common expectation that “there will be no results.”

Indeed, 75.6 percent of Chinese shoppers who placed complaints about defective products or billing problems said they received no response whatsoever. Just 5 percent said they were satisfied with the result when they raised an issue with customer service.

China’s State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television—the agency that supervises broadcasts—recently promulgated a regulation limiting infomercials on satellite TV. The new rule, however, simply limits the amount of airtime—product ads can air only once an hour—and bans ads in which actors play the roles of TV anchors to hawk products.

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