Advertising and Marketing

Director Feng Xiaogang wins celebrity endorsement lawsuit

Feng Xiaogang hawks real estate on TV

Celebrity spokespersons across the country must have breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when Feng Xiaogang beat back a lawsuit concerning a commercial he'd appeared in.

In 2006, the well-known and much-admired director endorsed the Moon River housing development, calling it "the successful person's choice." In a TV spot, he told viewers, "I can reliably tell you that everything you see is real."

Taken in by the ad, and by the fact that Feng himself owned a home in the development, a man identified as Mr. Zhang spent 1.6 million yuan on a two-level apartment. But when he moved in, he found that the bathroom leaked, the floor buckled, the air conditioner was improperly installed, and the whole place reeked. Repeated repairs failed to solve the problems.

Zhang argued that Feng was responsible for the quality of the product he endorsed: "I bought this apartment because I trusted Feng Xiaogang. But he hadn't done the necessary checking up on what he was endorsing, so he engaged in false advertising." He sued the director for an apology and 80,000 yuan in compensation for mental anguish.

Feng's lawyer said that Zhang's problems were with how his particular unit was fixed up, and that the overall development was in line with what Feng had claimed in the advertisement.

Yesterday's Mirror reported that a court has rejected Zhang's claims by referring to China's Advertising Law, which assigns responsibility for false advertising to "advertisers, and advertising agents and publishers." An actor who does nothing illegal in a commercial, and is not "objectively wrong," is not responsible for the ad itself.

"Objectively wrong" provides the wiggle room that keeps these cases coming. The Mirror article included a brief summary of a few recent celebrity endorsement lawsuits:

  • Guo Degang: The famous xiangsheng actor was the target of two separate lawsuits by Beijing. Guo endorsed a weight-loss tea they claimed was falsely advertised. Both suits were later dropped.
  • Guo Donglin: Jiangsu lawyer Li Meike sued the actor for exaggerating the effects of Tide detergent in an advertisement. The court rejected the claims in July 2007.
  • Zhang Tielin: Zhang, well-known for portrayal of various emperors in TV dramas, appeared in character in an ad for a medicinal alcohol. The ad claimed that the alcohol would treat cardiovascular disease, arthritis, renal disease, anemia, and various other conditions. An 87-year-old woman took the product as directed but saw no improvement. She sued Zhang for 237 yuan, but lost in July 2007.

The biggest case is yet to come: in the wake of the melamine milk scandal, Sanlu celebrity spokespersons Ni Ping and Deng Jie were sued for more than 90,000 yuan by a Chongqing resident over their role in endorsing tainted infant formula.

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There are currently 8 Comments for Director Feng Xiaogang wins celebrity endorsement lawsuit.

Comments on Director Feng Xiaogang wins celebrity endorsement lawsuit

Fair dos people have gripes with celebrities not knowing what they're endorsing. But if an unknown actor did the same would the consumer sue the unknown or the company?

Fault definitely lies with the companies here.

i'd say the reason these lawsuits keep coming is because no one has a chance suing the huge real estate/government conglomerates.

the court reached the right conclusion but for the wrong reason.

real property (i.e., housing, land) has been bought and sold the world over for centuries subject to the maxim caveat emptor, that is, that the buyer has a duty to inspect the property and may not hold others liable for any reasonably discoverable defects absent outright fraud (e.g., painting over a cracked and crumbling wall to make it seem sturdy) by the seller.

it would be odd were china an exception to this rule.

That may work when the property is present for inspection, slowboat, but new units are often sold before construction is complete (and sometimes before it has even begun). bocaj: That's probably the right idea. There was a case about a month ago where a homeowner discovered that the property they bought had already been given to another buyer - the developer handed over the wrong keys and jumbled the addresses. Who got sued? The other homeowner, not the developer.

true, Joel.

but there's no indication in the article above that Zhang bought the place sight-unseen.

even had he entered into an agreement to buy the house sight-unseen (a common enough occurrence the world over), there's no indication that he took title to the premises--or that he "closed" the sale--without first inspecting the apartment.

if he declined to do so, he did so at his own risk, subject only to the representations and warranties that he received from the seller. and thus the rule mentioned above still stands.

Zhang may be a fool, but he's a competent enough fool in the eyes of the law to enter into a land-purchase contract.

Feng's advertisement was not an offer of sale for a guaranteed, commodity product. it was, rather, an invitation to negotiate with the developer for contractual purchase-sale of a piece of property distinct from the property represented by Feng.

there's no sound rule of law under which Feng could be held liable for Zhang's failure to inspect his real property (as distinguished from "personal property" like a car or a towel set) before purchase, or to strike a better contractual bargain for himself.

with so many shady dealings afoot in china's property markets, it's absurd that the court took as much time as it did on this frivolous case.

but there's no indication in the article above that Zhang bought the place sight-unseen.

are you in china? have you been? this is how ALL housing developments are sold.


buyers in china enter into property contracts sight-unseen; but they don't "buy" a place until they've registered the property transfer with the local gov.

the right of inspection is the buyer's to lose.

If you've ever seen the movie "Da Wan'r" you'll find this doubly amusing

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