Surrogate Advertising: Short notes on Surrogate Advertising!

The term “surrogate advertising” refers to duplicating the brand image of one product extensively to promote another product of the same brand. Surrogate products like playing cards, soda water bottles apple juices etc. often being used to promote liquor and tobacco related brands normally do not actually exist or even if they exist, they are manufactured as “limited edition” i.e. in very small numbers.

The concept of surrogate advertising is believed to have started from UK, where the housewives protested “Siql advertisements as they felt that those ads were weaning their husbands away from them- in order to combat this resistance, the liquor manufacturers started advertising harmless products like fruit juices, sodas under the same brand name as that of popular liquors.

Currently tobacco and liquor ads are banned from TV and radio in India. The print media allows only tobacco ads with statutory warning of “cigarette smoking is injurious to health.” The Government of India amended Cable TV Act in order to curb advertisements, which promoted directly or indirectly the promotion, sales or consumption of cigarettes, other tobacco products like gutkha, pan masala, liquors like wine, alcohol, any other intoxicants, breast milk substitution products like feeding bottle or infant food.


This led to increase in surrogate advertisements of liquor and various tobacco-related products. Surrogate advertisements mostly pay the role of reinforcing brand recall rather than inducing consumption and help major tobacco and liquor brands to remain alive in the minds of the consumers.

Sand Piper Malt Beverage:

ASCI also upheld a suo motu complaint against United Breweries for an advertisement for Sand Piper Malt Beverage created by Triton Communications. This was obviously surrogate advertising for a liquor brand.

Tobacco Products:

When the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) withdrew its code to regulate tobacco products, consumer activists were concerned over the impact of the move.

The issue has taken a new twist with the Central Government deciding to ban tobacco companies from sponsoring sports and cultural events. Similar curbs have been enforced on advertising of liquor products Apart from a ban on smoking in public places, sale of tobacco products to minors will be prohibited, once the proposed bill is passed.


However, experts believe that the ban won’t work, firstly – because it is not clear how surrogate advertising will be checked and secondly because the agencies, which can implement these measures, including NGOs, lack enough teeth.

The ASCI, even while admitting the sensitivity of the issue, feels the government has overreacted. A couple of years ago, when the strong tobacco lobby opposed the Council guidelines, it had hastily withdrawn them inviting activists’ ire. They felt that the ASCI virtually surrendered to the whims of the industry by abdicating its responsibility and allowing manufacturers to resort to unfair advertisement techniques, sans any checks. According to them, India has failed to initiate a comprehensive tobacco- control strategy in keeping with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Tobacco Institute of India (TII), the representative body of tobacco farmers, exporters, cigarette manufactures and ancillary industries, contended that it would stick to its own code. A watchdog body, comprising experts from all fields, was to overview its observance. Curiously, the code bore resemblance to the ASCI code. The industry showed scant respect for it and it was violated often, an ASCI member reveals. Contrary to the provisions, a cigarette manufacturer featured a leading film star in its campaign with a slogan ‘Red & White smokers are one of its kind’.

Consumer activist, N G Wagle, says, “The ASCI works in tandem with the media to build pressure on advertisers to follow fair practices. If the tobacco industry was really serious about following any norms, they would have let the earlier code continue. Why was a new code needed, when ASCI had one?” he asks.


Opinions are divided regarding the Government’s latest ban move. The fine of mere Rs.100 is just not enough, some say, whereas advertising agencies have taken a stance that it’s unfair to ban advertising, since the product itself is not banned. “If the product will continue to be produced and marketed, there is no point in restricting its advertising,” they generally feel.

Also, as stated above, there are no means to check surrogate advertising. Tobacco major, ITC has come up with Gold Flake ‘expression greeting cards’. Wills has registered its sportswear as a new business entity.

TII states that tobacco, being a legal product, freedom of commercial expression should be permitted and that the consumption of tobacco products should be an informed personal choice for adults only.

“Tobacco Product” means leaf tobacco or any product containing tobacco which is sold in India and includes bidis, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, cheroots, chutta, gutka, khaini, snuff, pan- masala with tobacco, zarda, kiwam, gadaku, hand rolled tobacco, hookah tobacco, so on and so forth.


There is a growing public concern regarding increasing consumption of tobacco, its health implications and the need to prevent access to minors and non-users.

Some Quick facts:

Cigarettes cause about 6.35 lakh deaths in India every year.

About 33 per cent of cancer cases are attributed to tobacco consumption.

However, cigarettes alone account for roughly 10% of excise collections.


Tobacco trade is a major contributor to the national exchequer.

So obviously, there is clear conflict between health and economic interests of the country.

Before the ban on advertising and on smoking in .public places? various approaches have been adopted to address these concerns, ranging from legislation of varying degrees of severity to voluntary codes and self-regulation, but they have seldom worked. Activist point out that the recent advertisement- monitoring panel formed to implement the ban on transmission of tobacco advertisements on TV channels, including private ones, was ineffective in fulfilling the task.

As stated above, TII wants to stick to its self-voluntary code and going by that, keeping a tab on tobacco advertising is not going to be easy.



Promotion and advertisement are a must today in the dynamic market and increasing competition and many companies and agencies are tempted to hit the competition from a wrong side. But there is no alternative to a healthy competition and hence all kinds of regulations are an imperative.

Moreover the media is a reflection of the society and culture and has a very strong and everlasting impact on the viewers specially those with tender minds. So the advertisers as well as the agency should never forget, “You can fool one person once, you can fool all once, you can fool one all the time but it is not possible to fool all, all the time.”