ASCI Vs Surrogate liquor advertising 1-0. Game On

19 Jan,2021


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Congratulations, ASCI. I serious sincerely love this. However, I am not fully satisfied. There are mixed emotions. It was waiting to happen for a long time. ASCI banning brands for Surrogate advertising– mainly Surrogate Liquor Advertising is excellent.


ASCI (short for Advertising Standards Council of India) is often compared to be a toothless tiger or a dog that can bark and not biteRecent changes in the law dealing with Surrogate Advertising gave ASCI a positive momentum. May be this is a result of it.


Blatant Surrogate Advertising


To a layman and public at large, the surrogacy of these liquor advertising was never in doubt. Often, questions on industry turning a blind eye to such rampant surrogacy were raised and not well defended in the classrooms. The law should take its own course used to be the only saving grace. The change in the rules and the framework have added to the ASCI power and intent to act.


ASCI’S Surrogate v/s Genuine Brand Extension

• For a brand extension of a product (liquor, tobacco, etc.) to be considered genuine, it must be registered with an appropriate government authority such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

• In-store availability must be at least 10% of that of the leading brand in the category that the product competes, or sales turnover must exceed Rs 5 crore per annum or Rs 1 crore per annum in each state it is distributed in

• It must have a valid certificate from an independent organisation for such turnover and distribution data.

• Advertising for such brand extensions cannot feature what is prohibited by law or banned products. Neither can the advertising allude to or hint at products that cannot be advertised.

• As per the law, advertisements for liquor brand extensions can run on TV if they have a CBFC certificate.





This blatant use of Surrogate Advertising could not have happened without a substantial nexus between the clients, advertising agency, media houses and Brand Ambassadors. Names like Ranveer Singh, Rohit Sharma, Jaspreet Bumrah, Virat Kohli and Priyanka Chopra have featured in what seems explicit surrogate Liquor advertisements.


Are these celebrities, including sportsperson not sure of what they are doing and how the youth idolises them? It seems they don’t care. I am yet to see icons refrain from the lure of surrogate advertising.


Ethics – Morality V/s Blindness V/s Business


For agencies, media owners it is business as usual. Do we seriously believe they do not know that the brand that they are advertising is a surrogate and may not be a genuine brand extension? How is that possible? These are big Agency brands. What makes them work on such projects? Creative license. Celebrity association. Awards. Maybe awards cannot have a category for best Surrogate Advertising.


Yes, I have also said that I will work on any brand that is legally allowed to be advertised. And I stick to it. But, I will not do misleading advertising.



ASCI not on time


It is good to note that ASCI as a self-initiative took some 14 brands under the scanner. Another 12 were taken to ASCI’sASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC).


In November 2020,  ASCI wrote to brands within 24 to 48 hours of commercials’ airing during the Indian Premier League (IPL). But, once again, the process seems too long.


Inaction by ASCI in the past has been called out by many. This includes the possibility of exposing under Legal Drinking age kids; rightly pointed out by Sandeep Goyal as more toxic and injurious than a mere commercial transaction. In his article in Brand Equity, Sandeep pointed out that ‘surrogates use the logos, colours and graphics of the original liquor parents. Just, the ASCI doesn’t seem to see them. It violates Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, Rule 7(2)(viii). The act prohibits the direct or indirect promotion of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor and other intoxicants. Moreover, it prohibits using particular colours and layout or presentations associated with prohibited products.’ 



Surrogate Advertising Wins. Feel Cheated


It pains to see that the industry body has not named the 12 brands that have been banned. I am in with Sandeep Goyal in feeling Cheated by the process and non-transparency. ASCI always called brands – then why is Liquor Category being treated differently. A review petition filed by four of the advertisers is a strong statement to show that many know what they have been doing.





press note that appeared in 2019– clearly pointed out that the Whisky Brand has signed on the celebrity. In 2018, ICC took Royal Stag as a partner with ”Make It Large” brief – what was Large was obvious. It even had a limited edition world cup pack– and what else do you need to influence and connect with the youngsters. In this case, the sports Governing body, the Brand Royal Stag and the celebrity all maybe legally doing right what is wrong. But then that is not surrogate advertising.


Here is ROYAL STAG – make it large. Trust it is just the PACKAGED MINERAL WATER.




I enjoy the Imperial Blue Men-will-be-men series. But, I am sure it is an example of surrogate advertising.


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