Surrogate Advertising in India

India is not the first when it comes to banning controversial adverts or adverts showcasing alcoholic drinks, cigarettes or other tobacco products. This had led to a steady inflow of surrogate advertising in India. But with the Supreme Court coming out with a ruling that even surrogate advertising for tobacco products will not be accepted, we look back at some of the famous brands built on surrogate advertising.

When direct tobacco adverts were banned, almost all the companies resorted to surrogate advertising; a form of advertising that is used to promote banned products such as cigarettes and alcohol, in the disguise of another product. This type of advertising uses a product of a fairly close category such as club soda, or mineral water in case of alcohol, or products of a completely different category such as music CDs, playing cards and so on, to the consumers. The banned product (alcohol or cigarettes) may not be projected directly to consumers but rather masked under another product under the same brand name so that whenever there is mention of that brand, people start associating it with its main product (the alcohol or the cigarette).

Kingfisher has always been at the forefront of surrogate advertising in India. From fashion shows to bottled water to soda to calendar – it has promoted everything under the umbrella of the brand name ‘Kingfisher’. Royal Stag carried a similar legacy with their star-studded lineup that included Indian actors and IPL cricketers from across the cricketing fraternity. Ditto for some other brands like Bagpiper, which had a barrage of film stars promoting it and had a signature sign offline, all of which also generated a good amount of respect from the alcoholic community. Bacardi, Antiquity, Romanov (Brand of Diageo Spirits) all took turns in taking potshots at the surrogate media circus.

The Government rules say that no tobacco products can be advertised directly on television, or print media. Apart from that, even shops selling tobacco products cannot advertise these products in their shops. One piece of information for the stats lovers – The sale of tobacco to minors is prohibited under the law but India has one of the highest numbers of tobacco-related problems in children. 

Cigarette companies weren’t slow on their moves either. Wills moved on to sponsoring fashion shows, clothing ranges, etc. There were very few gentlemen in the industry such as ITC (Indian Tobacco Company) who stopped tobacco advertising altogether and are slowly diversifying to other sectors in order to phase out their tobacco business.

Whatever will be the fate of tobacco and alcohol advertising in India, the sales of these products seem to be hardly affected. We still see underage people smoking cigarettes and we have to admit that ‘solely’ blaming the advertising world for this disaster is a ‘layman’s’ way of looking at things. With advertising, comes interest but with education comes awareness.

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