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Surrogate Advertising in Liquor Industry: Is it Ethical?

Surrogate Advertising in liquor industry is a widespread practice. Have you ever thought why brands such as Imperial Blue, Kingfisher advertise for products such as music CDs, soda, mineral water? Do you remember the famous McDowells “No. 1 Yaari” or Imperial Blue’s “Men will be Men” campaign? The one thing which is common here is that all these brands are into selling alcohol and liquor. But they are advertising and marketing the products which do not contribute much to their sales. This is a common practice, and it is known as surrogate advertising. It is generally done to ensure that the brand can leave its impact on the minds of prospective consumers.

Today, India’s alcohol industry is the third-largest by value. With a value of $35 billion, India is one of the top markets for higher consumption and is continually growing. The Indian Government has banned the marketing of these products through advertising media. However, the competition in the market has increased, and without proper promotional techniques, a product can never succeed in today’s competitive market. In a country like India, these types of products are significantly popular.

However, according to the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act 1995, advertising of cigarette and liquor brands is completely banned in India.  The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) also has some measures on surrogate advertising. Therefore, the companies selling alcoholic beverages and cigarettes cannot advertise their products directly because of which they adopt different strategies to promote their product.

Corporate houses are stepping out of their limits and finding different ways to promote their products which is not legally objectionable. One of the solutions for them is Brand Extension Advertising or Surrogate Advertising, where the brand name remains the same but the products marketed are different.

Bagpiper Surrogate ad

Surrogate advertising in liquor industry has a long history. One of the first brands that took advantage of this alternative form of advertising was Bagpiper in the year 1993. They introduced the slogan, “Khoob jamega rang jab mil bhaitenge teen yaar. Aap, main aur Bagpiper”. The ad featured the famous Bollywood celebrities of that time: Jackie Shroff,  Dharmendra, and others.

Another classic example of surrogate advertising is the Men will be Men Campaign of Imperial Blue. There are no long stories in these ads. The campaign highlights the moments followed by the two lines, “Pyaar ki raah mein chalna seekh, ishq ki chaah mein jalna seekh”. The ghazal tracks, the catchy tagline, the real-life elements make the campaign a memorable one.

Kingfisher came up with this jungle ‘Oo la lalal le o’ track for IPL. The campaign by Wunderman Thompson is another classic example of how the brands are keeping them alive and conveying their brand identity. “Divided by teams, United by Kingfisher” IPL campaign is one of their greatest brand promotions.

The whole concept of surrogate advertising is believed to have started from Britain. The British housewives protested strongly against the liquor advertisements. They felt that those ads were provoking their husbands. More people were complaining, and it rose to that level that the liquor advertisements were banned. The housewives forced them to promote juices and soda under their brand name, which later became an alternative solution for the brands in the liquor and cigarette industry.

We can say that the rules and regulations do not stop the creative department and marketing department to do best they can do in these ads. But the question that arises here is whether this form of advertising is ethical or not. Is it ethical to promote surrogate products and promote the brand name? Or there should be some measures against this form of advertising. The Surrogate Advertisement (Prohibition Bill) came in 2016 and was passed in Rajya Sabha. However, it is yet to be passed in Lok Sabha.

Is it an ethical way of promoting/marketing unethical banned products?

In the year 2008, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, Former Union Minister, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, even protested the title of one of the IPL (Indian Premier League) team. He was against the name “Royal Challengers,” which was familiar to a famous liquor brand name “Royal Challenge.” He showed his doubts that the UB Group was trying to promote the liquor brand, namely “Royal Challenge” using Surrogate Marketing techniques.

Faridabad based resident filed a PIL. He raised the point that the company is trying to promote its liquor brand under the name of IPL team. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed by him.

In today’s age of the digital world, the brands are even collaborating with Instagram influencers. Kingfisher is creating a buzz on Instagram with its “Get your own #Myfisher gif.”

How easy it has become for these brands to survive in this digital age. The emergence of digital platform and influencer marketing has opened up a world of opportunities for liquor advertising. However, the big reality is that the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) does not have any regulations for influencer marketing. There are no rules and regulations for social media endorsements by influencers, bloggers, or micro-bloggers.

Is there a need for rules to be stricter or they should be more liberal so that the alcoholic brands can promote their products in a better way?

At times, it is clear to consumers that the companies are indirectly promoting the banned products. Most of the people are aware that the companies are advertising soda, CDs, calendars under the umbrella of their brand name. The alcoholic beverages brands are also sponsoring some significant events to reach out to the number of masses. They are targeting audiences online. The marketing and advertising in the liquor industry have evolved. Even the strict laws against the advertising of banned products are unable to stop the brands from positioning themselves for their services.

The creative ways in which these brands advertise cannot be considered as illegal. However, we all know that these brands have no relation with soda or CDs they are promoting. The music CDs hardly contribute to their overall sales. The sales in the liquor industry are increasing, not music CDs or soda bottles.

But do you think banning these commercials will make any difference in the industry itself? Will people stop consuming alcohol if the surrogate products are not advertised?

We cannot say that people will stop consuming alcohol if these products are not advertised. These advertisements might create an influence and help the brand build an effective brand image and deliver a strong message. It is up to people and the way they are getting the message.

Let us know your opinions about surrogate advertising in liquor industry. Let us know what you think and if you have ever got influenced by any of their campaigns.

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