Alcohol and tobacco are widely considered as societal banes. An addiction to these not only means a detriment to one’s own health but also social and financial problems in the family. An addiction to alcohol can cause a host of kidney and liver problems and maybe even failure in serious cases. An estimate by National Crime Records Bureau in 2013 suggested that one Indian dies every 96 minutes due to alcohol consumption. On the other hand every year one million people die due to tobacco consumption in India. Adding to this the fact that many more people suffer regular health problems that arise due to alcohol and tobacco.
Keeping this in mind, the Indian Health Ministry lobbied for the passing of Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 which banned any sort of direct liquor, tobacco and cigarette advertisements. This was a welcome move. As a result of this came the idea of Surrogate Advertising. The term is defined as duplicating the brand image of one product to extensively promote another product of the same brand. The surrogate products are usually sodas, juices, playing cards, packaged mineral water or music CDs. In a way, this is just marvelously brilliant and genius. What goes best with alcohol? Water or soda. While drinking this, you can play cards and listen to music, all manufactured by the same brand. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well no, most of these “CDs” and “sodas” don’t even exist and when they do, they are manufactured in very small numbers and promoted as “limited edition”. As such, the motivation of these firms look even more suspect when they advertise products that do not even exist.
It was all going well and good for the corporations until 2002 when in June of that year the Information and Broadcast Ministry of India banned about 14 advertisements of surrogate products of alcohol brands. As a result of this, the ads became more and more innovative so as to circumvent over the fact that they are indirectly promoting alcohol. Other ways to still maintain the brand image in public eye was to sponsor sports tournaments, award ceremonies, modeling contests etc.
While everyone should be free to drink and smoke whatever they want, it certainly isn’t in the best interest of the society to allow the promotion of these products and persuade the non indulging people of the society to take up a habit. The idea of surrogate advertising defeats the very purpose of banning such advertisements. Furthermore, to overcome this handicap, large brands rope in popular cricketers and movie stars to promote their brand image. This is especially dangerous because a lot of youngsters look up to and idolize these celebrities. People who drink and smoke would continue doing that regardless, but the promotion by celebrities only brings in youngsters to try their addictive offerings. Since a younger mind is easily corruptible, it is almost too easy to get addicted. An example of this was seen when James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan was roped in to promote a Paan Masala brand. Brosnan being an Irishman probably didn’t know about the concept of surrogate advertising and no one would have bothered to tell him either in case he withdrew from the project after knowing the truth. In the end, he was universally panned for promoting a banned product and had to apologize and make it clear that he didn’t know exactly what he was advertising. This just sounds like a lame excuse because the promotion had already been done, and hence he already had been paid his due, so nothing mattered now.
In conclusion, while surrogate advertising is a very clever marketing strategy, it definitely is unethical. The mere fact that someone is willing to put the lives of millions of people at stake just for financial gains should be reason enough to think so. It is just plain manipulative behavior. If the government really wants to curb this, it needs to remove the loopholes and bring in more stringent regulations.
What are your thoughts on surrogate advertising? Let me know in the comments section below. Here is an ad that is clearly selling music CDs and nothing else:
You enjoy this video while I go help myself to a glass of “soda” and shuffle through my rack of ” Music CDs”.