Chinese automaker Chang’an Ford apologizes for raunchy ad

Society & Culture

The boundary of what's considered acceptable in Chinese advertising is shifting.

Chang’an Ford, a joint venture between China’s Chang’an Automobile and U.S. carmaker Ford, has apologized for a video on social media that many critics say objectifies women.

“We have removed the content and are incredibly sorry for what happened. We will make sure our materials won’t cause any discomfort in the future. Thank you for pointing out our mistake,” the automaker company said (in Chinese) in a statement yesterday.

The now-deleted video (in Chinese), meant to show off the acceleration of a new model, features a young woman in a white dress struggling to hold down her skirt as the car zooms past. In its Weibo post, Chang’an Ford labeled the speed test as a “fun experiment” and touted it as “a feast for eyes.”

“Have you ever wondered if there’s any truth to the scenes in Japanese mangas where a girl’s skirt flies up when a boy runs past her? Today, we have a girl wearing a white dress to help us recreate the scene,” the automaker wrote (in Chinese).

Shortly after the post went up, critics accused the company of portraying women as objects for the viewing pleasure of its male customers. “I didn’t know much about this brand but now I know that their target consumers are creepy, perverted men,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese). Another quipped (in Chinese), “I think it’s safe to assume that none of the people who signed off on this have daughters. The lack of awareness is mind-boggling.”

The controversy soon caught the attention of Chinese state media. In a brief editorial, China Central Television, the country’s state broadcaster, condemned Chang’an Ford for resorting to something “tasteless” and “ridiculous” for the sake of publicity. “The problem is that this kind of marketing strategy might attract traffic in the short term, but it will cause irreversible damage to a brand’s damage in the long run,” it wrote (in Chinese).

The post, backlash, and apology all happened within a day, underscoring how the boundary of what’s considered acceptable in Chinese advertising is changing, as Chinese consumers become more conscious of companies that use sex to sell products, play into archaic gender stereotypes, or resort to cheap jokes. Earlier this year, PurCotton, a Chinese manufacturer of cotton products, pulled an ad for make-up removal wipes after it prompted widespread backlash on social media over claims that it “demonized” victims of sexual assault.