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Apple Search Ads in Mainland China


Apple Search Ads in Mainland China

On June 22nd 2021 Apple made the long-awaited announcement that Apple Search Ads (ASA) will be available on the Apple App Store in Mainland China from July 21st 2021 onwards. This page will provide you with a summary of the options, restrictions and solutions that are available in order to use ASA in China.

If you are using an international (i.e. non-Chinese) ASA account then you will now be able to select ‘China mainland’ in the ‘Choose one or more countries or regions’ section (see below).

Campaign Settings (1)

This ‘China mainland’ option is currently only available for ‘Search Results’ ads and isn’t available for ‘Search Tab’ ads (see below).

Campaign Settings (2)

Apple states on their website (https://searchads.apple.com/countries-and-regions/) that “Apple Search Ads is Apple Ads in mainland China. Search tab ads aren’t currently available on the App Store in mainland China.”.

Sidenote screenshot

After selecting ‘Search Results’ ads and clicking ‘Continue’ the Apple Search Ads Console displays a message stating that “To advertise in mainland China, you must upload required documents to Apple Search Ads” (see below). There is also a question asking “Is the app you selected to advertise in mainland China operated by a “company business”?”. It’s not yet clear what effect this selection has and, again, we are awaiting a reply from Apple on this.

Form screenshot

The next step is to select your Keywords. The system provides recommendations based on the details of your app, together with their popularity. If you would like guidance on how to select the most appropriate keywords then visit https://www.appinchina.co/get-started to contact us.

Keywords Selection form

Next you will need to specify your target audience and the options here are the same as for other countries. The ‘Locations’ section allows you to target by province and also city, and it appears to cover every prefecture-level city in China as listed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_in_China.

Locations settings

Finally, you will need to confirm your ‘Creative Sets’ including metadata, screenshots and app previews. If you don’t yet have a Chinese-language version of these then contact us at https://www.appinchina.co/get-started and we can help you to create these.

Creative Sets settings

After clicking ‘Create Campaign’ you will be presented with the ‘Request Approval’ popup shown below stating that “Before you can advertise in mainland China, your account must be approved. You can choose to complete this task later, but you won’t be able to run campaigns in mainland China until you do.”

Request Approval screenshot

Upon clicking ‘Upload Documents’ you will be taken to an Upload Documents page. You can then click on the Help icon at the top right of the page to see the following message:

Upload Documents page

What to Upload
To run ads on the App Store in mainland China, your business and apps need to be approved. This may require uploading business licenses or other relevant documents.
Learn More

Document Retention
Apple will retain the documents you provide for as long as necessary to fulfill the purposes for which they were collected or as required by law, in accordance with Apple’s Privacy Policy.
If you upload something by mistake, you can use the trash icon to delete it on this page.
Once you click Save and Continue, documents cannot be deleted.

Third Party Databases
Apple may submit documents you upload to third-party databases and government entities for verification.

Clicking ‘Learn More’ will then open https://searchads.apple.com/v/help/b/docs/apple-advertising-guidelines-for-mainland-china.pdf which opens a 5 page PDF titled ‘Apple Advertising Guidelines for Mainland China’ that provides guidance on the licenses that are likely to be required in order to run ASA in Mainland China.

It’s also possible to contact Apple’s official email address for questions related to ASA in China: ads-policy-cn@apple.com. You’ll usually receive a response from this email address within 48 hours. However, they are generally only able to give very general guidance and are not able to confirm the exact licenses that they require.

The best way for advertisers to confirm the exact licenses that are required for their app is to contact our company to receive a free compliance report for each of your apps. You may also consider contacting a law firm such as DLA Piper or Linklaters that has a team specializing in technology compliance in China.

The most interesting section of this document is the ‘Ad Content Qualifications’ which provides examples of the qualifications that may be required according to the category of app that will be promoted. Almost all of these licenses can only be held by a 100% Chinese-owned company (or in some cases a joint venture with Chinese shareholders holding over 50%) and are therefore impossible for an overseas entity or wholly foreign-owned entity (WFOE) to obtain.

The only solution for most advertisers will be to partner with a local company like AppInChina which already holds these licenses and can therefore legally run Search Ads in Mainland China on their behalf. It’s also important to note that any companies currently publishing an app in China in any of the categories listed in this PDF without these licenses is not compliant with Chinese law and risks fines, blockage, and legal repercussions. It’s also likely that Apple will begin to require these licenses in order to simply publish an iOS app in China within the next few months, as they’ve already done with the Game Approval Number (ISBN) so it’s sensible to prepare for this eventuality in advance.

Payment Methods

If you are using an international Apple Search Ads account then you will be able to make payments using all of the standard payment methods. However, if your Apple Search Ads account is under a Mainland Chinese entity then currently the only payment method available is Alipay. Apple will also provide a fapiao (a Chinese tax invoice) for all payments.

If you’re interested in using our service then visit https://www.appinchina.co/get-started to contact us and we’d be happy to help.

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