Given the health hazards associated with liquor and tobacco consumption, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has introduced stricter rules to check on surrogate advertising. If enforced properly, it may have a long-lasting impact on liquor and tobacco brands’ advertisement strategy. According to World Health Organization (WHO), every year more than 8 million deaths occur due to tobacco consumption- more so in low- and middle-income countries. If we do not restrict them now, then when?
Ads we are talking about
If you are the one who likes to tune in to radio while in car, surely you would have listened to that pesky dialogue ‘Bolo Zubaan Kesari’- a mouth-freshener ad by Ajay Devgan. Do you remember tittering to ‘men will be men…’ funny TV ads of music Compact Discs (CDs)? Thinking about friendship and success and you have soda ads or ‘taste the success’ ad of packaged water featuring Sonu Sood! Then there is award winning ‘Born colourless’ commercial of music CDs. How all these popular ads of soda, music CDs are advertising their parent brand is no brainer!
Direct advertising of liquor and tobacco products is banned in India. These companies have always used brand extensions (same brand name as parent brand) to endorse parent brand by advertising packaged water, soda, music compact discs (CDs), merchandise or mouth freshener, sports events etc. In India, surrogate advertising accounts for Rs 600-800 crore market1.
Section 5 of the ‘Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act’ bans direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products. Section 7 of the Cable and Television Network Regulation Act, 1994, bans any direct or indirect advertisement of tobacco and liquor2 on television. In February 2009, I&B ministry amended the rule saying products sharing same brand name of prohibited items can be advertised , provided that the visual/ storyboard does not depict in any form tobacco or liquor products. Such advertisements must be certified by Central board of Film Certification*. Companies have found a leeway under the cover of brand extension.
Tightening the grip
ASCI has introduced new norms for the ‘fresh product launches’ to give teeth to surrogate advertising regulations. All extensions of tobacco and liquor brands that have yet not completed two years since their launch will “need to achieve a net sales turnover of Rs 20 Lakh per month”3. The brand could show fixed asset investment worth “Rs 10 crore, exclusive to the advertised brand extension in the form of land, machine or software excluding advertising related expenses of that product”3. ASCI is monitoring surrogate advertising closely and processing complaints immediately in case of any rule violation4.
The new norms will clearly make a difference whether it is a genuine extension or otherwise for new launches.
Moral policing and self-regulation is need of the hour. If such companies cannot act responsibly and are finding loopholes in the existing advertising regulation, time has come to take stricter actions. With Gutka, bidis/cigarettes and liquor being highly addictive and causing life threatening diseases, stricter rules appear to be the only possibility. Fresh norms will make it clearer – whether it is genuine or fake extension just for the sake to advertise parent brand. It is a challenge in digital times how to curb indirect tobacco and liquor advertising on digital platforms5. Regulation bodies will have to be more vigilant and should come with more transparent regulations.
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Do you think giving more powers to ASCI can help it keep an eye on such companies dodging the rules? How can stricter guideline from ASCI tighten the grip on tobacco and liquor companies’ fresh product launches in the name of brand extension?
- Nair, N. (2020, September 16). Govt guidelines to deal a blow to surrogate advertising? exchange4media.
- FRPT-FMCG Snapshot. Like Pierce Brosnan, Indian celebrities should steer clear of surrogate advertising too. 11/2016, p42-43.
- Sarkar, J. (2021, July 16). Surrogate ads face stricter rules – Times of India. The Times of India.
- ASCI investigates advertisements for liquor brand extensions appearing during IPL – ET Brand Equity.
- Qureshi, N. (2021, July 16). The conundrum of liquor brands on digital advertising.