Surrogate Advertisements: A Case of Proxy War


By

Prof. Jitendra K. Sharma
Lecturer-MBA
Shri R.G.P. Gujarati Professional Institute
A.B. Road, Near Bombay Hospital, Indore-452 010
 


Advertisements have a strong influence in our life. We like them because they provide information and create awareness about the market. Their significance in corporate world can not be underestimated. But many times, some advertisements are accused of misleading people. When such accusations are proved, some advertisements are scrapped off from media. Such instances have been reported in the advertisements endorsing alcoholic drinks and cigarettes. These advertisements were opposed by a major section of the society. Hence the Government had imposed a ban on advertisements of these products in the media in the year 2002.

ORIGIN OF SURROGATE ADVERTISEMENTS

As a reaction to the directive of Government, the liquor & tobacco majors sought other ways of endorsing their products. They have found an alternative path of advertising through which they can keep on reminding their liquor brands to their customers. They have introduced various other products with the same brand name. Launching new products with common brand name is known as brand extension, which can be carried out for related products (eg: Tata Salt and Tata Tea) or unrelated products (eg: Tata Tea and Tata Indica). Prima facie, there is nothing wrong with brand extension. The problem occurs when brand extension is carried out in response to the ban on advertisement of one product category. In this case, the companies launch other products with the same brand name for the purpose of reminding their old customers. Heavy advertising is done so that the customers do not forget their liquor & tobacco brands, for which advertisements are banned. The advertisements for such new products are placed under the category of "Surrogate Advertisements". Their only objective is to compensate the losses arising out of the ban on advertisements of one particular product (i.e. liquor). According to dictionary - surrogate means substitute. Many of us have come across this word in connection with surrogate motherhood. This time it has come in a new avataar - "Surrogate Advertisement". This is a loophole challenging the Government's action. However, the companies can claim that the order is being implemented and advertisements of liquor are banned, but the objective of the Government behind imposing the ban is not fulfilled. It's a new weapon of Proxy War.

SURROGATE ADVERTISEMENTS PROMOTED BY LIQUOR AND TOBACCO INDUSTRY

The liquor industry is a prominent player in this game. Few surrogate advertisements shown in print, electronic and outdoor media are - Bagpiper soda and cassettes & CDs, Haywards soda, Derby special soda, Gilbey green aqua, Royal Challenge golf accessories and mineral water, Kingfisher mineral water, White Mischief holidays, Smirnoff cassettes & CDs, Imperial Blue cassettes & CDs, Teacher's achievement awards etc. These products bear exactly the same brand name and logo, which we had seen earlier in liquor advertisements. It was little surprising to know that liquor giants like McDowell's and Seagram's have entered into new segments like cassettes & CDs, mineral water, sports accessories etc. Later it was found that the basic aim of these surrogate advertisements was to promote their liquor brands like beer, wine, vodka etc. This brand extension is an act of bypassing the advertisement ban.

A similar trend is followed by companies making Cigarettes, Paan Masala and Gutkha. Few examples of surrogate advertisements in this category are - Red & White bravery awards, Wills lifestyle, Four Square white water rafting, Manikchand awards etc. Though a ban has been imposed on advertisements endorsing tobacco products, this industry has resorted to surrogate advertising a few years ago. The Health Ministry has recently implemented the tobacco control legislation which will imply a complete ban on advertisements and all direct & indirect promotional campaigns for tobacco products. In 2001, Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) had voluntary withdrawn the Wills Sports sponsorship of the Indian cricket team when the Government had first proposed a ban on advertising through legislation.

THE CORPORATE STANDPOINT

The industry segment has its own standpoint in defense. The liquor lobby claims that everything is in accordance to the Government regulations. "If a brand has equity, why shouldn't it be allowed to advertise? Also, brand extension is an industry practice adopted by different product categories," comments Alok Gupta of UB group. "When we advertise our products, we follow all the guidelines," declares president, sales & marketing, Radico Khaitan. They clarify that they have stopped showing liquor advertisements and they are free to use the brand name for any other products. Even the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverages Companies (CIABC) advertising code maintains that advertisement of products (real brand extensions) by the liquor industry must be allowed.

From a layman's point of view, their claims seem to be justified. But this is a clear example of taking advantage of the loopholes. There is a point to ponder. When they have stopped showing liquor advertisements, why the same brand name and logo is used to promote products like cassettes & CDs or mineral water? They could have assigned different brand names. It seems they have a hidden agenda of highlighting the liquor or tobacco brand.

A similar tussle over the issue of surrogate advertisements in politics was raised in April 2004 on the eve of Lok Sabha elections. Complaints of slanderous and offensive advertisements were raised by two major political parties - BJP and Congress against each other. The issue became so serious that the Supreme Court had to interfere in this affair. Finally on 13 April 2004, the Court gave a verdict to curb smear advertisements on electronic media. By appointing Election Commission as referee, the court has tried to put an end to surrogate advertising in politics.

According to the Cable Act under the ministry of information and broadcasting,- "no broadcaster is permitted to show an advertisement which promotes directly or indirectly, sale or consumption of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants…" Now a new clause has been added under the act stating that "any advertisement for a product that uses a brand name which is also used for cigarette, tobacco product, wine, alcohol, liquor or any other intoxicant will not be permitted". Finally, in April 2005, the ministry resorted to a ban on surrogate advertisements of liquor and tobacco products on television.

After this directive, the surrogate advertisements are seldom shown on television. Now the companies will have to reframe their policies. But who will take care of print and outdoor media is not certain.

According to ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India), surrogate advertisements are harmful. Now it will be up to the ASCI to take up the matter with the respective companies.

TAILPIECE

The Supreme Court directive has made us agree that Surrogate advertisements in all categories should be banned. Another good indication is from the ministry of information & broadcasting, which has targeted to curb surrogate advertisements on television. Finally, the print and outdoor media should also be included and surrogate advertisements must be banned. After all, surrogate advertising is a loophole, which should be filled without delay.

REFERENCE

1. "Tobacco ads likely to be stubbed out by Jan-end", Hindustan Times, 22 January 2004.
2. "Election Commission to clear all poll ads", Hindustan Times, 14 April 2004.
3. www.businessstandard.com/strategist/storypage.php
 


Prof. Jitendra K. Sharma
Lecturer-MBA
Shri R.G.P. Gujarati Professional Institute
A.B. Road, Near Bombay Hospital, Indore-452 010
 

Source: E-mail March 06, 2006

    

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