The market watchdog in Haikou, Hainan province, has launched an investigation into Coconut Palm Group, a beverage maker, for allegedly publishing illegal advertisements, Haikou's Industry and Commerce Administration said in an online statement on Wednesday.
"Market supervision authorities will strictly investigate and deal with illegal advertisements in accordance with the law to maintain a healthy market order and to protect the rights of consumers," it said.
Coconut Palm, which sells a popular coconut juice nationwide, has been criticized for unsophisticated language and false claims.
It's new packaging, which was updated earlier this year, uses a promotional style featuring women with big breasts. The advertisements include a woman in a tight, low-cut top holding a can of coconut juice. Adjacent slogans read: "A can a day and you will be white, tender and bosomy" and "Genuine Coconut Palm coconut juice: I drank from small to big". The latter slogan, in particular, sparked an online kerfuffle, because it's not clear if it means small child to big adult or refers to changing breast size.
Coconut Palm has denied any wrongdoing in its advertising. A customer service staff member said the slogan "from small to big" refers to age rather than breast size, Beijing News reported.
A television commercial features several women with big breasts wearing tight tops and frolicking on a beach.
The administration has sent investigators to the company to look into the matter and said it will announce the result as soon as possible. The company has been cooperative and has withdrawn posters from its entrance, Thepaper.cn, a news website, reported.
Many voiced concerns over the advertisements, saying they imply that the drink can help enlarge breasts. They wondered whether the product actually has such an effect.
The company was founded in 1956 and has undergone changes since 1986. It is China's biggest enterprise producing natural plant protein soft drinks. Coconut juice is the company's star product and has been branded as a national drink by the company, as it is often served at major banquets.
Some netizens expressed disappointment in the venerable brand. "I don't get it why such a good old brand with tasty products is using such a marketing strategy," a social media user said.
Another wrote: "The drinks are truly tasty. I personally think there's no better coconut juice in the market than Coconut Palm. But vulgar advertising has been a long-standing problem. Could it be their organizational culture?"
China's law against unfair competition stipulates that anyone using advertising or other means to make false or misleading claims about goods will face fines of up to 200,000 yuan ($29,570), and income derived from such publicity will be confiscated.
It is not the first brouhaha over the company's advertising content. It has used ditties to promote other products such as "Wives who love their husbands drink Coconut Palm's pomegranate juice" and "A full papaya makes me bosomy".
Fan Linin, a nutritionist, told Thepaper.cn that the notion that spreading coconut milk on breasts or drinking coconut milk daily can make breasts fuller was based on one newspaper report rather than scientific research results, which shows a lack of responsibility toward consumers.
Ding Jinkun, a lawyer, said so far there is no evidence that drinking coconut juice daily can increase breast size.
If the company cannot provide sufficient evidence, then it may have violated the law against unfair competition and could face punishment, Ding said.