It’s no secret that China has a pollution problem: the air is unbreatheable, the rivers are toxic, and conditions have deteriorated to the point where the Chinese Communist Party has started cracking down on accurate weather forecasting.
At the same time, the crisis has created an economic opportunity for companies that can provide, or at least promise, a refuge from the pollution. Demand for air purifiers is so great that a build-it-yourself movement has started in Beijing for those who can’t afford quality models imported from abroad.
The sale of air purifiers in urban areas has soared in the past few years, and the competition is fierce, driving some firms to take rather provocative marketing tactics.
The air purifier maker Xiao Zhu commissioned an ad in which holographic images of the heads of young children—most of them crying, some of them with their hand over their mouth—onto industrial smog billowing out of factory chimneys. The ad ends with the message “Clean the air. Let the future breathe again,” in Chinese characters, projected onto the smog.
Pollution is responsible for more than 750,000 premature deaths in China each year, according to a 2007 report by the World Bank, most of it coming from air pollution. A general awareness of the health threats of pollution exists in China, but is greatly multiplied for the parents of young children—especially after the tainted milk powder scandal in 2008, in which tens of thousands of babies were hospitalized—who are more willing to pay a premium for protective measures against pollution.