Advertising is not easy by any means, especially when you have “restrictions.” Yes, a lot of companies have to face restrictions from state or federal governments. For instance, many countries don’t allow the direct advertising of alcohol.
Now, what happens when a company cannot advertise directly in a specific area? Such companies use indirect channels for advertising their products or services. In business terms, we call it surrogate advertising. Surrogate advertising may look like a new concept, but brands are using it for a long time.
Right, if this is something new for you and you are curious to know more about this effective form of advertising, then this is article has everything you need to know about surrogate advertising.
What Is Surrogate Advertising
Surrogate advertising is a type of advertising in which a brand promotes a “banned” product in disguise. That said, it is an advertising practice in which a brand indirectly promotes/advertises a product by advertising/marketing another product of the same brand.
Surrogate is a word that means “substitute,” and brands often use a similar commodity to promote a banned product or may use a totally different one. For instance, a liquor company may start promoting its brand by selling of beverages such as juices, soft drinks, etc.
History of Surrogate Advertising
The surrogate advertising concept emerged from Great Britain. Domestic violence had immensely increased as drinking became a common practice in Britain. Therefore, the British women started protesting against liquor brands advertising their products publically.
This ultimately pushed liquor companies on the back foot as they had to change their advertising practices. Companies started using surrogate advertising techniques and sold liquor in disguise by promoting soda and juices.
Surrogate Advertising Strategies
Companies can use surrogate advertising in different forms, and here are some of them.
Promoting A Brand by Associating with Public Figures
A very common form of surrogate advertising where brands promote their products via getting endorsements from celebrities or public figures. For instance, Royal Challenger Bangalore (RCB) is a high-profile cricket franchise in the Indian Premier League. RCB is under the ownership of Royal Challenge, a famous whisky brand in India.
Brand Promotion by Expansion
A lot of brands also promote their business by investing in other similar or different brands to avoid any advertising ban. For instance, Kingfisher, a famous beer company, has invested in domestic airline companies to promote their brand. Kingfisher has also made yearly calendars with swimsuit models.
Promotion Through Event Sponsorship
Sponsoring a public event is also a great way to promote your brand if you can’t advertise it directly. For instance, companies leave their brand logos in public events for brand promotion. A practical example includes Royal Stag, a whisky brand in India. Royal Stag owned a cricket club in IPL, one of the world’s biggest cricket leagues. The company promoted Coke Studio performances for their brand advertising.
Brand Promotion Through Television Content or Commercials
How can a company, prohibited to promote its product, advertise on television? Well, this usually happens because companies advertise products completely different from their typical product range. Royal Challenge, a whisky brand in India, advertises playing cards and branded water bottles to keep reminding the consumers about their main products.
Promotion Through Public Announcements
This is probably the most controversial form of surrogate advertising. For instance, a tobacco company may use public service announcement options to inform people about the health risks associated with tobacco consumption. Yes, that sounds weird because the message and product are contradictory. But this helps these companies to stay on top of the minds of their customers.
Importance of Surrogate Advertising
Surrogate advertising has quickly become an important part of brands’ overall marketing campaigns. In fact, it is safe to say that it is the only feasible option for many businesses. Surrogate advertising is important because it:
- Helps the brands to be alive in their customers’ mind.
- Allows brands to indirectly promote a product that cannot be advertised directly.
- Conveys a message that the brand is actively fulfilling its social responsibility.
- Helps in advertising secondary products or less accepted products in the society.
Advantages of Surrogate Advertising
The strategy has been the go-to advertising option for many brands. Here are some benefits of surrogate advertising.
- Revenue Generation. Surrogate advertising is very effective for brands to generate massive revenues from banned products. As it is pretty difficult to advertise these products via other mediums, surrogate advertising creates awareness about such products and helps companies achieve their financial and organizational goals.
- Competition Reduction. It can significantly reduce the competition because of difficulties and restrictions for new entrants. A brand needs massive budgets to sponsor major/noticeable events, celebrities, and public figures. That is why it difficult for new entrants to create brand awareness with limited resources.
- Helps brands to Stay “Alive” In Customers. It is very important for every brand to stay on top of their customers’ minds. Liquor, tobacco, and similar brands cannot advertise directly in many countries. This can jeopardize their existence in the competition, but surrogate advertising helps them create brand awareness.
Disadvantages Of Surrogate Advertising
- Surrogate advertising technically kills the purpose of prohibiting/banning the direct advertising of a harmful product.
- It is difficult for a new business to create brand awareness through surrogate advertising.
- Surrogate advertisements mostly yield low levels of awareness and knowledge about a brand.
Examples of Surrogate Advertising
Brands that cannot advertise their main product line openly expand by investing in marketable businesses to stay in the mainstream. Here are some common examples of such brands.
“Russian Standard Vodka” Opens A Bank
Russian Standard Vodka is one of the biggest Russian companies famous for producing premium quality vodka. The company opened a bank when the Russian government banned the direct advertising of alcohol. They kept their name and logo in front of the populace and remained visible while many other brands were severely hit by the national policy.
Wills is a famous cigarette brand, but it also runs a clothing brand named as “Wills Lifestyle.” The company invested in an entirely different business to advertise its main product indirectly.
Surrogate Advertising and Cannabis
It is illegal to sell marijuana in most countries. However, different brands are selling weed-infused products by labeling them as medicines. Common examples include GW and ArcView Pharmaceuticals.
Is Surrogate Advertising Illegal?
It is simply impossible to answer this question in a simple “YES” or “NO.”
Yes, surrogate advertising helps many brands to generate massive revenues by selling their products that are banned for direct advertising.
However, the legality of those products is highly questionable. Surrogate advertising affects consumer behavior and urges them to buy these products that are actually injurious to their health.
Technically, there are two major aspects when it comes to the legality or ethicality of surrogate advertising.
- Surrogate advertising helps different brands to indirectly promote their primary products, which are injurious to health.
- On the other contrary, these products generate huge revenues, thus contributing to the national and local economies significantly.
The most interesting fact in this aspect is that governments may prohibit alcohol or tobacco companies from direct advertising, but it is legal to produce these products in those countries, which is a weird contradiction. If it is legal to produce alcohol or cigarettes, then how is it illegal to advertise these products directly or indirectly?