Advertising and Marketing

A medical scam's willing participants

After and before

In mid-July, SARFT announced a ban on misleading commercials for health and medical products.

In early August, a report circulated online that purported to expose the techniques such ads use to mislead the public. On 22 August, the television program China Legal Report invited the article's author, a beautician, to explain how such ads are faked. Hou Dongfeng had worked in faking commercials for cosmetics back in 2002:

When I arrived at the scene, the agent handed me a photograph of a person whose face was covered in spots, and had me make up the model's face according to that picture. After finishing the makeup, we shot the 'before removing the spots' scenes, and afterwards we washed off the spots I had painted on, added a bit of makeup, turned up the lights, and continued shooting the 'after using the product' part.

Typically when shooting this kind of cleansing commercial, the models used by the company had average skin, not too bad but not too good; easy to mould.

The program also revealed other ways that commercials fake their results:

  • Breast enlargement: First shoot with the breasts strapped down, and then use exaggerated body language to show off the "results." Some ads are real, but shoot the "after" section following enlargement surgery rather than use of the product.
  • Hair growth: First shoot the model with hair, and then shave it off for the before segment.
  • Weight loss: Paste the model's head on a different body; squeeze and stretch the model's own body. Or exaggerate an overweight model's body by tightening the belt below the stomach, and for the after shot, having the model simply suck in his stomach a bit.
  • Wrinkle elimination: Stretch the corners of the eyes, apply a bit of glue, wait for it to dry, and release. Presto! wrinkles.
  • Bags under the eyes: "The bags are all makeup. Anyone who's studied film makeup knows this. Actually, we are all Asians, so each of us has bags under our eyes."

The Beijing Morning Post, which reported on the TV investigation, concluded with a quote from an online forum commenter:

The country has issued rules that prohibit the broadcast of ads for weight-loss and height-increase products, but I've found that stations are still broadcasting them. Perhaps there are still people willing to be tricked.

In this week's Oriental Outlook, Liu Chunwei, a doctor from Jiangsu, explains how actors are found for "miracle cure" commercials:

It has been more than a month since SARFT issued an order banning the broadcast of television commercials advertising illegal products, but our city's TV stations are still broadcasting some illegal ads that use patients' exaggerated "experiences". As a medical worker, I detest these ads that mislead patients. Some sufferers do not get better after taking the health produces recommended in these television commercials; their condition deteriorates and we doctors can only react.

What's most dramatic is that two days ago actually saw a former terminal cancer patient of mine on one of those health product commercials describing the product in his dialect, saying that after he took it he felt like his body had more energy than before. But as far as I knew, that patient had died of his illness more than one month before.

In truth, the kinds of people in this kind of commercial are actually real, and some of them have been patients in our hospital. What most of them have are chronic conditions that are hard to cure, and most of them are peasants reduced to poverty by their illness. The drug dealers usually look up records first, and pick out the poorer ones to visit, promising to give them free use of the health product or a three or four hundred yuan "appearance fee." This not only cuts down on the commercial's shooting costs, but also makes it look genuine. The patients who "star" are happy to accept the terms. It doesn't matter what they say on camera; in their eyes, "shooting a commercial is just blowing a lot of hot air."

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