Will alcohol and tobacco companies continue with surrogate ads in India?

Will alcohol and tobacco companies continue with surrogate ads in India?

Indian laws do not allow alcohol and tobacco companies to advertise, but a few of these advertisers have extended their brands to other categories purely in an attempt to advertise.

Surrogate advertising happens when the brand extension is seen as a guise for a product that is almost non-existent in commercial terms.

An interesting article in the Mint asked the most valid question: Will Kingfisher Airlines be allowed to advertise?

Kingfisher is also the brand-name of an Indian alcohol (beer). Kingfisher alcohol existed long before the Kingfisher airline came into existence. Similarly Indian Tobacco Company’s (ITC) had their flagship brand cigarette ‘Wills’ and then opened Wills Lifestyle stores (readymade garments) across India when Indian tobacco control Acts tightened the clamp on tobacco advertising.

Another alcohol brand ‘Royal Challenge’ (beer) sponsors a sport-event (Indian Premier League matches) which are broadcasted on Sony television. This time, Sony TV is likely not to screen such programmes since tobacco or alcohol sponsorship of sport events is also banned in India.

Enforcing such tobacco and alcohol advertisement bans are in extreme interest of the people, public health and the country’s welfare. Studies have proven how tobacco and alcohol ads use glamour and lifestyle imagery to promote their products and catch youth’s fancy for their capital interests. The deadly health-hazards of tobacco and socio-economic disaster which alcohol spells on families are a reality we deal with in our day-to-day lives.

However advertisement firms are going to lose Rs 250 crores of the revenue which was earlier coming from tobacco and alcohol ads. They ask: “Why is the [tobacco and alcohol advertisement] clamp not extended to other media, such as sponsored ground events, outdoors, point-of-purchase advertising etc., which will reap our losses?”

The question is indeed very valid. These bans on alcohol and tobacco advertisement should be extended to sponsored ground events, outdoors, point-of-purchase advertising etc as well. Actually the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products Act (2003) does extend the ban on tobacco advertising (direct, indirect and surrogate) to sponsored ground events, outdoors, but allows tobacco advertising at the point-of-purchase with conditions: the size of the board is fixed by law and also the content: tobacco advertisements on point-of-sale cannot display any graphic or picture or any brand name, and should only mention the kind of tobacco being sold there with 25% of board area dedicated to health warning (Tobacco causes cancer or Tobacco kills) in local language.

In the year 2000, the government formed a committee headed by the then additional secretary of the Information and broadcasting ministry which included prominent broadcasters to look into the issue. The committee recommended that products with real production and distribution channels cannot be called surrogate. However tobacco and alcohol companies have been promoting their products under the garb of non-tobacco or non-alcohol products with same brand names. Such surrogate advertisement does have a brand recall impact since most of the viewers associate a particular brand with the main product. For example, Royal Challenge is an alcohol for most consumers or potential consumers and not a sport!