Surrogate advertising hits a roadblock

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | March 17, 2008
With health minister Anbumani Ramadoss calling for a complete ban on surrogate advertising by liquor and tobacco brands, advertisers will have to look for other ways to tell consumers about their products

The Vijay & #BANNER1 & # Mallya owned UB Group named its airline business Kingfisher after Mallya's popular beer brand of the same name. Without doubt, this is one of the most successful examples of surrogate advertising. The extension of the Kingfisher brand to the airline gave a great push to the original category, beer. The Kingfisher brand has also been successfully extended to other categories such as mineral water and club soda.

Wills is another example of an effective brand extension through the Wills Lifestyle retail outlets. Other liquor and tobacco brands have also extended themselves to categories such as mineral water, audio cassettes, CDs, perfumes, golf accessories and holiday packages to gain the benefits of surrogate advertising.

But now, health minister Anbumani Ramadoss has called for a complete ban on surrogate advertising on traditional media by liquor and tobacco brands. This could spell the end for all such brand extensions. The government's complaint is that the liquor and tobacco companies use the original brand name and logo even on the brand extensions and this is a clear violation of the advertising code, which prohibits liquor and cigarette brands from advertising directly.

agencyfaqs! spoke to some brand owners and advertisers to get their views on the government stand. Pallav Soin, deputy general manager, Radico Khaitan, says he feels it's too premature to draw any conclusions from the muddled directives of the government. "I do not know of any clear ruling or verdict on completely banning surrogate advertising for liquor brands. The directives from the government are pretty unclear at the moment. Anyway, whenever a ruling comes to that effect, as law abiding citizens, liquor and tobacco brands will have to comply," he says.

So, what would be the strategy if such a ruling does come into effect? Soin says brands have retail channels available to them today to advertise and push their products.

Divya Radhakrishnan

Satbir Singh
Divya Radhakrishnan, vice-president, The Media Edge, says that since liquor and cigarettes are impulsive buys, a restriction or ban on their publicity will have a discouraging effect. She says, "Anything to do with liquor and cigarette brands calls for a sensitive approach."

Satbir Singh, chief creative officer, Euro RSCG, agrees with her. He is the brain behind the King Cobra brand, a beer brand that has now been extended to club soda. Singh suggests that instead of a blanket ban on such advertisements, the government should adopt the middle path and restrict their airing to after 11pm.

Singh points out that point of sale advertising will get a great push if the ban does come into effect. He cites the example of cigarette brands, ads for which can be spotted at every roadside kiosk.

Besides promoting the brand at the point of purchase, the ban could also see a rise in in-film placement of products, says another advertiser. Who can forget Stroh's beer making a magnificent entry into India via Aditya Chopra's blockbuster, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge? Zingaro, a UB Group product, made an appearance in the Bipasha Basu and John Abraham starrer, Jism. Bagpiper made an appearance in Dum, and 8 PM whisky was prominently placed in the Sanjay Dutt starrer, Plan.

Then there are brand associations with major events which also provide great opportunities for promotions. Manikchand, the gutka and pan masala brand was associated for a long time with the Filmfare Awards. Similarly, one of the cigarette brand is responsible for the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Awards.

All in all, the ban on surrogate advertising, if it comes into effect, could be a new challenge for liquor and cigarette brands. Brands will have to re-look at their advertising budgets, and maybe seek other avenues to promote their brands.