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Surrogate ads: No clear Govt definition, a lot of grey areas that need to be addressed, say industry experts

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Surrogate ads: No clear Govt definition, a lot of grey areas that need to be addressed, say industry experts

It has never been easy for liquor companies to advertise in India and the companies have been taking the surrogate advertising route to make their brand names visible. Thus, there have been numerous brand extensions – be it CDs, mineral water, achievement awards, even an airline and an IPL cricket team – flaunting the names of liquor brands and companies.

According to Allan Colaco, Secretary General, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), surrogate ads formed 5 per cent of the total Indian advertising industry, which stands at Rs 21,000 crore (approx $4.5 billion), as per the Pitch Madison Media Advertising Outlook ’09.

The tough stance on liquor advertising can be gauged from the fact that a few years back Dr Vijay Mallya, Chairman of the UB Group, had said during a conference that as there were too many restrictions to advertise the brand Kingfisher, he had ventured on a path where he embodied the brand Kingfisher himself. So, if he was defined as the King of Good Times, it in turn helped him in building brand Kingfisher, as the brand too personified this element of good times. It was an innovative way of advertising. He started to live the brand and the testimony to the popularity of the brand is for all to see today.

The restriction on liquor ads continue and has now been taken to worrying heights with the latest move of the Delhi Government, where it informed the Delhi High Court that the publisher of a surrogate advertisement on liqour would be slapped with a fine of Rs 10 lakh and a jail term of six months as per the amended Delhi Excise Act.

No clear definition of surrogate brands

Maheshwar Peri, Publisher, Outlook magazine and President, Outlook Publishing India Pvt Ltd, clarified, “At the outset let me make it clear that if there is anything illegal, then we will not be carrying it in any of our publications. Right now, the Government has not clearly defined what they consider as surrogate brands and there are a lot of grey areas that need to be specifically addressed. Does the advertising of Royal Challengers, which is an IPL team and worth Rs 250 crore, count as surrogate or the Kingfisher Airline fall into this category? What then is Wills Lifestyle, which is a popular brand today? Would that be surrogate? As per the current law, the Government does not allow advertising of any liquor or cigarette brand and we do not carry any of these advertisements.”

He added, “Surrogate advertising and advertising of brand extensions needs to be clearly defined by the Government with regulations in place. There is no law in force on this yet, also there is the larger debate of surrogate products. But right now, there are too many questions on these that need to be answered by the Government.”

The status as of now is that surrogate advertising continues as long as it is a legitimate product. Expressing his view on surrogate advertising, Allan Colaco of ASCI, a self-regulatory voluntary organisation of the advertising industry, said, “Advertising of products that are brand extensions is allowed as far as the product is available in the market. Meaning that a CA has to certify that the product is genuine and is being sold in the market. The censor board in this case passes advertising for these brand extensions.”

As for the Delhi Government move, Colaco refused to comment on it, stating that it was on the Acts passed by Government and he wouldn’t like to comment on it.

Nonetheless, the move has created quite a stir among the creative community and agencies that have been handling liquor brands have been doing a double check. Like Sriram Sharma, General Manager – Bangalore, Starcom Worldwide, who handles the brand SAB Miller, did a double check after reading the news report that was carried in on October 30, 2009, to understand if there were any further necessary moves that the agency should be aware of.

If one can sell it, then why can’t one advertise it?

Arvind Sharma, Chairman and CEO, Leo Burnett, said, “We have adhered to the rules for surrogate advertising, and for more than a year now don’t have any surrogate advertising on air or in print. There is a clear and well established rule for surrogate and we follow those guidelines for our clients. It is clearly mentioned that there cannot be any display of similar logo or a suggestion of a bottle for surrogate advertising, even if the brand extension is an appropriate product.”

Prathap Suthan, National Creative Director, Cheil Worldwide, SW Asia, has a radical view on surrogate advertising. He said, “I think if the Government allows any product or service to be sold, it should also be allowed to advertise. If the Government is okay with the product being sold, then it should also be okay with advertising. Otherwise it’s double standards.”

He added, “If people truly want to buy something, especially alcohol or cigarettes, as long they are available, people will go and buy it. Surrogate or not. Besides, if we stop the advertising that allows people the freedom to know what brands are available in the market, people may not have access to the right information. They will and can end up buying the wrong brands, pay the wrong prices, and eventually create a community of consumers who certainly have no yardstick to gauge their purchases.”

But what about the liquor companies who need to advertise their product and have been at the receiving end of such Draconian laws? An official from a leading liquor company said, “These restrictions are nothing new and one has learnt to live with it. Mass media advertising is not the only way to promote a brand, there are innovative ways to drive brand communication. We have been doing communication at point of sale, BTL and trial activities to engage consumers.”

Also read:

Delhi Govt tightens screws on surrogate liquor ads; publisher of ad to be jailed, fined


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