The practice of surrogate advertising in India has become a matter of concern, where companies attempt to circumvent legal restrictions on promoting harmful products like liquor and tobacco through deceptive means.

This practice has evolved in response to laws such as the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995, and the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA, 2003).

Surrogate advertising involves promoting non-restricted products using the brand name and imagery associated with prohibited items, such as alcohol and tobacco.

a) Ethical Issues Associated with Surrogate Advertising:

Deceptive Advertisement:

  • Surrogate advertising’s primary objective is not to promote the supposed new product but to maintain brand visibility and indirectly promote prohibited products.
  • Example: Bacardi Blast music CDs or Bagpiper Club Soda.

Nudging Consumers to Buy Harmful Products:

  • These campaigns often portray tobacco and alcohol as trendy, cool, and fashionable, influencing vulnerable individuals, especially the youth.
  • Peer pressure and indulgence are leveraged to drive consumption.
  • Example: Officer’s Choice playing cards or Kamla Pasand mouth freshener.

Insensitive Behavior of Celebrities/Influencers:

  • Celebrities and influencers who endorse harmful products through surrogate advertising prioritize financial gain over their responsibilities to their fans and public interest.
  • Example: Pierce Brosnan’s association with ‘Pan Bahar’ and subsequent claims of being misled.

Concealment of Information:

  • Popular brands deliberately mislead or withhold information, altering consumer behavior without revealing their true motives.
  • Example: Lack of disclosure regarding the harmful nature of products in surrogate advertising.

b) Legal and Regulatory Framework:

Government Measures:

  • The government has issued notifications banning surrogate advertising of liquor in print, electronic, and outdoor media.
  • Direct or indirect promotion of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, or liquor is strictly prohibited.

 Challenges in Enforcement:

  • Despite regulations, surrogate advertising remains prevalent in India.
  • Regulatory authorities struggle with enforcement, allowing companies to continue the practice.

Steps to Combat Surrogate Advertising:

Clear and Unambiguous Laws:

  • Enact stringent laws prohibiting the use of the same brand name and tagline for other products by companies selling alcohol or tobacco.
  • Impose penalties for violations.

Empower Advertising Standards Council:

  • Provide greater authority to the Advertising Standards Council of India to take action against false and misleading advertisements.
  • Enhance its capacity to monitor evasion of the law.

Media Compliance:

  • Encourage electronic and print media to adhere to advertising codes and refrain from airing surrogate advertisements.

Accountability of Advertising Agencies:

  • Hold advertising agencies accountable for promoting surrogate advertisements.
  • Legal action against agencies involved in designing deceptive campaigns.

Consumer Awareness Programs:

  • Conduct educational campaigns to enlighten the public about the negative consequences of surrogate advertising.
  • Support initiatives like youth-led campaigns by NGOs such as HRIDAY and SHAN, advocating for comprehensive bans.

Comprehensive legal and policy measures are imperative to combat the issue of surrogate advertising in India.

This extends beyond television ads and should also encompass event sponsorships and innovative integrated marketing strategies used by companies to promote harmful products.

Through rigorous enforcement and public awareness campaigns, India can protect its citizens from the deceptive allure of surrogate advertising and safeguard their health and well-being.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish May 21, 2024