An Open Letter To ASCI: Sandeep Goyal

In an open letter to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Goyal raises concerns regarding the surrogate advertising practices of alcohol brands during the ICC Cricket World Cup

The World Cup gets underway today. And all the usual suspects - the liquor companies masquerading as books, zero alcohol, AI apps and more - are back as ICC and Disney Hotstar sponsors! 

My crusade against misleading surrogate advertising dates back to 2018. Today again I released an Open Letter to ASCI, may the watchdog beware.

I have written open letters in the past to ASCI Chairpersons. This morning I wrote an open letter to Saugata Gupta, Chairman of ASCI and Partha Sinha, Vice Chairman of ASCI. 

As per media reports, Bira 91, Royal Stag and Jacob’s Creek have signed up as ICC partners. Meanwhile, Pernod Ricard, Kingfisher, Black & White and Diageo feature prominently on the list of sponsors of the official World Cup broadcaster/digital platform Disney Star. They are all obviously gearing up for significant brand visibility as sponsors during the mega event. 

To me, each one of these brands appears to be a liquor brand. Or so they are sold in the market to consumers.

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, Rule 7(2)(viii) clearly prohibits the direct or indirect promotion and advertisement of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants and wherein the advertisement is not to use particular colours and layout or presentations associated with the prohibited products. Past experience shows that liquor brands have been masquerading as water, soda, and bar accessories, and as they get more innovative and creative are being peddled as books or 0.0% alcohol or ale or AI fan experiences, and more – all flimsy surrogates to circumvent the Law. 

I have written open letters in the past to ASCI Chairpersons Abanti Sankaranarayanan and Subhash Kamath on the issue of surrogate advertising of alcohol.

My missives to Sankaranarayanan and my various exchanges with Kamath are part of the public record.

Because of my untiring crusade to bring erring brands to book on the usage of false surrogates, ASCI finally took action in January 2021. Following the liquor brand extension ads that appeared during the IPL on television & OTT platforms, ASCI took up 14 complaints. In two cases, the advertisers apparently agreed to withdraw the advertisements immediately. The other 12 cases were taken to ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) and issued notices. 

Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, of ASCI, in fact went on record to say, “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”.

The last IPL was relatively free of surrogate advertising, at least on television (most brands continued to flout the guidelines on digital, though). But from the long list of ICC and Disney Star sponsors, it is clear that the various liquor brands are again lining up for big-time action – presumably using dubious and questionable surrogates.

This open letter is just to say: Dear ASCI, stay vigilant!

(Sandeep Goyal has been leading a long-standing campaign against deceptive surrogate advertising. He is the Managing Director at Rediffusion Brand Solutions)

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