The consumer affairs ministry is looking to curb surrogate advertising by alcohol and tobacco companies as brand and lifestyle extensions. The government is increasingly becoming serious about dealing with the issue of misleading ads. It appointed the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) as its executive arm last week.
Persons in the know say the ministry is pushing amendments to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, to prevent companies from indulging in surrogate advertising. "The view held by the ministry is that surrogate advertising is misleading since its intention is basically to promote the flagship brand rather than the extension," said Bejon Misra, noted consumer rights activist, also on the consumer complaints council of the ASCI, a core group within the regulatory body that meets twice a month to redress complaints received against false and misleading ads.
Misra, along with a few other consumer rights groups, has made presentations to the government in the past asking it to look into the issue of surrogate advertising. At an ASCI seminar in the city last week, Keshav Desiraju, secretary, consumer affairs ministry, had indicated his ministry was working to curb surrogate ads.
Regulations prevent advertising of liquor and tobacco products on television. In the past few months, the government's stance has become tougher in the case of tobacco, with an experts' committee constituted by the Union health ministry in October 2014 coming out with various recommendations, including a ban on advertisements of tobacco products at points of sale. The health ministry had also come out with a draft note around the same time asking companies to stamp health warnings across 85 per cent of the surface of cigarette packs. This is yet to be implemented. However, liquor and cigarettes remain the most taxed products in the country in an attempt to reduce consumption.
Surrogate advertising has been on the government's radar for long, since there is no way of knowing whether the products advertised are legitimate extensions or not. Typically, products such as music CDs, packaged water or glasses are routinely advertised by liquor majors on television in what most consumer rights activists said was nothing but blatant promotion of the mother brand. "Why only products, you also have events such as bravery awards and fashion shows that promote a brand that otherwise cannot be advertised," said Misra.
Most alcohol and tobacco companies are sponsors of lifestyle events, some examples being the Blenders Pride Fashion Tour and the Red & White Bravery Awards, which is now called the Godfrey Phillips National Bravery Awards.