Brand Extension - A Strategy For Surrogate Advertising

All celebrities are aware of the legal guidelines to endorse tobacco or alcohol brand extensions but till the consequences like their own reputation are not at stake over the monetary benefits, they continue to endorse

Amitabh Bachchan’s recent pullout from endorsing Kamla Pasand’s brand extension “Silver Coated Elaichi” has brought back the ghost of the controversial Surrogate advertising. Mr Bachchan, the most popular face in Indian advertising faced consumer backlash on social media for endorsing the brand which they believe is a surrogate for the flagship tobacco brand of Kamla Pasand. Justifying the endorsement Mr Bachchan issued a statement that he did it for money and was not aware that the product is being used for surrogate advertising and the moment he realized his mistake, he pulled out from the brand ads. According to a statement released from Mr Bachchan’s office, “Mr Bachchan has terminated the contract with the brand, has written to them his termination and has returned the money received for the promotion as he was not aware that the deal falls under surrogate advertising.”

Well, many of the other film stars continue to promote the brand extensions of the restricted tobacco or alcohol brands. For example Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgn feature in Vimal Elaichi advertisement, Sanjay Dutt in “All Seasons Club Soda”, Salman Khan promoting Rajshree Elaichi brand and so on. The list continues as there is big money payoffs to these celebrities and if we assume that they are not aware that the brands they endorse are surrogate for the restricted brand, then we are wrong.

Though we have laws and regulatory bodies but are they enough?

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has issued fresh guidelines for brand extension and surrogate advertising. Though the alcohol and tobacco brand’s advertising is prohibited on media except for social media for alcohol but the guidelines for brand extension and surrogate advertising has not been able to restrict the surrogate promotion of these product categories in the mainline media. And that is harmful to the consumers and the generation to come who get influenced by the surrogate advertising of the brand extension and may relate it to the restricted product (tobacco or alcohol).

Both alcohol and tobacco brands due to restrictions in advertising are working their way around to promote their restricted products through brand extensions and surrogate advertising featuring celebrities. Soda water, silver-coated elaichi, music CDs, bottled water are some cases in point of brand extensions of these restricted brands. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has taken up this with a few of the media channels to stop airing this surrogate advertising. Recently Aaj Tak was pulled up for airing the “All Season Club Soda” advertisement which is considered to be a surrogate for their main Whisky brand with the same name.

So, to distinguish between a genuine brand extension and surrogate advertising, ASCI has issued certain guidelines for alcohol and tobacco products ads on cable TV, which are:

1. “Only the unrestricted good should be displayed;

2. The prohibited products should not be referred to either directly or indirectly;

3. Phrases or nuances which promote the prohibited good should not be used;

4. The layout, colours or presentation associated with prohibited goods should not be used; and

5. Situations typical to prohibited goods must not be used in the advertisement.

6. Brand extension advertisements to be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification”

Also, the ASCI code specifies guidelines for the usage of the brand name of the restricted product to be used for brand extensions under the following conditions:

1. “Whether the unrestricted good is produced and distributed in reasonable quantities to justify the scale of advertising, media used and markets targeted, and,

2. Whether the advertisement direct or indirect clues/cues which would lead a consumer to associate the advertisement with the restricted good?”

Further, there are turnover conditions for brand extension launched within or over two years by these restricted product categories. For brand extension present less than 2 years should have a turnover of Rs 20 lakh per month or fixed asset investment of at least Rs 10 crore.

Why only Amitabh Bachchan?

Mr Bachchan who has always been a fence sitter in any controversy, probably took the right decision, obviously under growing consumer backlash. But what about MS Dhoni (Royal Stag), Virat Kohli (Royal Challenge) and so on. Pan Masala which is smokeless tobacco is addictive and carcinogenic and therefore harmful to consume. Tobacco companies make lots of money with a huge consumer base in India, and the tobacco lobby is one of the most powerful in many countries. In the US (1990), the tobacco companies lobbied in state legislatures to sell tobacco without any restrictions. In India, smokeless tobacco kills 230,000 Indians each year and 90% of the oral cancer is attributed to smokeless tobacco. The tobacco lobby is strong in India, tax revenue from cigarettes alone is to the tune of INR 356 bn in 2020.

All celebrities are aware of the legal guidelines to endorse tobacco or alcohol brand extensions but till the consequences like their own reputation are not at stake over the monetary benefits, they continue to endorse. People are not only questioning Mr Bachchan but also have brought other celebrities under the moral scanner of endorsing products that are harmful to the youth of our country. Though it is between the regulatory body like ASCI and the brand and the celebrity, all we can hope is that better sense prevails. Kamla Pasand hoardings are still up in cities and some ads appeared even after Mr Bachchan pulled out from the ad campaign and returned the money to the company. All we know is that warnings on packets have changed from “Smoking is injurious to health” to “Tobacco causes painful death”. Hope these warnings hold more weight than the celebrity influence.

The author is Dr Gaurav Sood, Professor of Marketing, Amity School of Business

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