What Are Surrogate Ads And Why Is the Government Against It?

The government has announced a slew of measures to curb misleading advertisements and endorsers by banning surrogate advertisements under the Consumer Protection Act

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The recent clampdown of the government on surrogate advertisements has left liquor and tobacco companies in a limbo.


The government has announced a slew of measures to curb misleading advertisements and endorsers by banning surrogate advertisements under the Consumer Protection Act. The new guidelines on 'Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022' seeks due diligence to be carried out while endorsing advertisements.

Now, according to reports, liquor makers are seeking clarity from the government on what qualifies as 'surrogate advertising' and whether the recent clampdown would include ads with phrases such as 'responsible drinking' or 'don't drink and drive'.

What are surrogate ads?

The Indian government has restricted rampant advertisements of tobacco, liquor products by appropriate legislations, orders and directives. Due to the legal restrictions, major liquor and tobacco companies sought other ways of endorsing their products and they introduced various other products with the same brand name. Surrogate ads are basically companies advertising their products and services by disguising them as some other product under the same brand name. Launching new products with common brand names is also known as brand extension.

A report says, the problem occurs when heavy advertising is done with an intention to remind customers of their liquor and tobacco brands, for which advertisements are restricted or banned. The advertisements for such new products are placed under the category of surrogate advertisements. Cable Television Networks Act,1995 prohibits the direct or indirect promotion and advertisement of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants. However, private channels often permit alcohol companies to advertise using surrogate means, such as selling the brand name for soda or water or music.

Some examples of surrogate ads from tobacco industry include Red & White bravery awards, Wills lifestyle, Four Square white water rafting, among others. Similarly, Bagpiper soda and cassettes & CDs, Haywards soda, Royal Challenge golf accessories and mineral water, Kingfisher mineral water, White Mischief holidays, Smirnoff cassettes & CDs, Imperial Blue cassettes & CDs, Teacher's achievement awards, are some examples from the liquor industry.

Endorsements by celebs

Despite regulations by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) against surrogate advertising, many Indian celebs feature in pan masala ads.

Recently, actor Akshay Kumar stepped down as Vimal Eliachi's brand ambassador after drawing flak for promoting the pan masala company. The actor apologized on Twitter, stating he would be more cautious about the products he endorsed in the future. He tweeted, "While I have not and will not endorse tobacco, I respect the outpouring of your feelings in light of my association with Vimal Elaichi. With all humility, I step back. I have decided to contribute the entire endorsement fee towards a worthy cause."

In October 2021, Amitabh Bachchan backed out of an endorsement arrangement with a renowned pan masala brand after receiving criticism on social media.

In 2016, Pierce Brosnan, the former James Bond actor, appeared in a surrogate advertisement for Pan Bahar. Later he claimed to have been cheated by the company which kept him in the dark about the hazardous nature of the product.

In the new guidelines, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) can impose a penalty of upto INR 10 lakh on manufacturers, advertisers and endorsers for any misleading advertisements. For subsequent contraventions, CCPA may impose a penalty of upto INR 50 lakh. The authority can prohibit the endorser of a misleading advertisement from making any endorsement for upto one year and for subsequent contravention, prohibition can extend upto three years.

Why is the government against it?

The Center has notified stricter norms related to mass advertising in print, television and social media under The consumer protection authority (prevention of misleading advertisements and necessary due diligence for endorsement of advertisements) guidelines 2022.

The guidelines also defines what constitutes "fair and valid advertisements" and lays down specific rules for advertisements targeting children. "Ads targeting children shall not feature any personalities from the field of sports, music or cinema for products which under any law require a health warning for such advertisement or cannot be purchased by children," the government said in a statement.

The guidelines have made it mandatory for celebrity endorsers to disclose even small stakes in the companies or brands advertised or featured in ads targeting children.