Aishwarya Ramesh

ASCI bans alcohol brands' 'surrogate ads' that ran during IPL

The Advertising Standards Council of India upholds complaints against alcohol brands that used 'surrogate advertising' to push their products on both OTT platforms and mainstream television.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has banned 12 liquor companies from using surrogate advertising to market their products. ASCI started receiving complaints of alcohol brands airing 'surrogate' ads during the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year (2020). The ads were investigated for selling products such as CDs, packaged water, non-alcoholic beverages and merchandising as surrogate for the liquor product offerings.

ASCI is the self-regulatory body of the advertising industry that has agencies, advertisers, media houses and other stakeholders as its members. Its mission is to increase consumer trust in advertising by ensuring honesty and adherence to ethics in all marketing claims. Some complaints were against Pernod Ricard for its products like Imperial Blue Superhit Music CDs, Chivas Music CDs, 100 Pipers Music CDs and Blenders Pride Fashion Tour.

The ads were aired on television and OTT platforms. Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, ASCI, said that following the ads' appearance during the IPL on OTT and print, ASCI suo motu took up 14 complaints.

“In two cases, the advertiser agreed to withdraw the advertisements immediately. The other 12 cases were taken to ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council (CCC). All these advertisements were found to be in violation of the ASCI code, as advertisers failed to convince the CCC that these were genuine brand extensions, or that they did not have direct or indirect cues of the category whose advertising is restricted or prohibited,” she said.

Manisha Kapoor
Manisha Kapoor

Kapoor clarified that all the advertisements against which complaints have been upheld can't be aired/published unless they are suitably modified. She also stated that in four cases, the body received a review petition, with the advertisers submitting further data and arguments.

“These are under process now. Advertisements against which complaints were upheld, are not allowed to be published or broadcast, pending the review process. In December, CBFC also added a quantitative criteria for brands extension, similar to ASCI quantitative criteria, to assess genuine brand extensions.”

Prabhakar Mundkur, a former adman and now a brand strategy consultant, said that the move is better late than never. "It doesn't matter that the IPL is on, but this has been banned by the cable, television code. Generally, liquor advertising has continued in this country for decades, in spite of the laws being there, or rules for everything."

He added that the ASCI should have taken cognizance of this earlier. Mundkur said that a large number of countries still allow advertising on liquor, albeit with some restrictions. "Other countries actually have a code of advertising dedicated to alcohol brands. So, advertising for liquor has been regulated in a number of countries as well. If India, as a country, thinks it should ban all forms of advertising for liquor, that's okay too."

Mundkur said that he learned that when COVID started, Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK actually set out the guidelines for using the pandemic in marketing messages, even before advertisers started trying to take advantage of it.

Prabhakar Mundkur
Prabhakar Mundkur

"Sometimes, a good way to pre-empt is when you know that somebody is going to take advantage, or misuse guidelines, saying, you know, you can do this, and you can't do that, and we are being watchful of it."

He added that what happens is in countries like the UK, for example, advertisers become wary of how they advertise even regular products. "Similarly, ASCI has never been pre-emptive when it comes to seeing what might be wrong or unfair. And I think as a body, it has the power to be pre-emptive on everything," he concludes.

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