Surrogate advertising campaigns for liquor brands is intensifying in India. On the one hand, there are liquor companies that are promoting their line extensions - whether genuine or just as a means to promote their liquor brands is a different matter, and on the other hand, there are the legislations, the I&B ministry and the ASCI (The Advertising Standards Council of India) that have not been too happy about the entire scenario.
Says Santosh Desai, Executive Vice President, McCann Erickson, "There seems to be inherent double standards in the government's policy. If something is unrecognizably bad and cannot be advertised, then why sell it at all and earn tax revenue on it as well? I feel that the case of government allowing liquor companies to operate but not advertise, is like a baby, who is given birth to, but is thereafter, not looked after."
Agrees Meenakshi Madhvani, CEO, Carat, which handles brands like Bacardi and UDV. "If selling liquor is a legal business, then why is advertising liquor not?" she questions. "This is a case of the government having its cake and eating it too. If liquor brings in so much revenue to the government, why should it not be advertised?" she adds.
Although the withdrawal of surrogate liquor advertisements would cause a drop in the revenues for television channels, the drop would not be as substantial. Says Madhvani, "As a whole, the spending on liquor as a category, is not as much. Therefore the impact on ad revenues would not be very marked.'
But the views of Zia Mody, Advocate, and member ASCI differ. "Liquor companies have found an indirect way of getting over the ban on advertising through surrogate advertising. The government may allow certain vices, but that does not mean that it would be forced to encourage it as well. Advertising liquor would be encouraging it."
Bharat Kapadia, Associate Publisher and Partner, Chitralekha Group, and member ASCI opines, "Liquor companies try to find loopholes to advertise their brands. Via these surrogate advertising, consumers can be misguided, which is why the I&B ministry needs to take care of such advertising."
But how does one differentiate between a genuine brand extension and one that has been brought into the market as an indirect way to push liquor brands? Says Mody, "If a brand extension has a stand-alone business plan and is profitable in itself, one can call it a genuine extension. However, there may be line extensions, which exist only to help advertise liquor brands. It is the advertising of such brands that needs to be curbed."
Raj Nayak, Executive VP, Star Network also touches upon the same. "Although we would follow the government's final take on this, yet the distinction between surrogate advertising and a real brand extension is what is called for."
Amongst liquor majors, which have been advertising their line extensions are, Bacardi International and Radico Khaitan. While Bacardi has been advertising its Bacardi Blast Summer Party Music Album", Radico Khaitan has started marketing apple juice under the 8 PM brand. While the McDowell Mera No. 1 ad campaign is used to sell their soda, United Breweries is selling its mineral water under the "Kingfisher" brand.
Although the debate continues between those who feel that surrogate advertising should be curbed and those who feel that it is the only means a liquor company can build a brand name, the future would depend upon what stance the I&B ministry takes on the same. The verdict is awaited.