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Surrogate Advertisements, Celebrities And Brand Positioning

Surrogate Advertisements, Celebrities And Brand Positioning


Akhshay Kumar’s association with the tobacco brand Vimal (in a surrogate manner of brand promotion) was short-lived. While the brand had arguably biggest stars in the form of Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan as brand endorsers, Akshay Kumar was included to make it a triumvirate. It was for the first time in the history of advertisement that a brand was being promoted by 3 top actors and stars from the world of Hindi cinema. However romance of Akshay Kumar with a product that otherwise is associated with a form of tobacco item was short lived as there was a severe backlash and Akshay Kumar had to come out in the public to dissociate himself from a surrogate advertisement campaign.

Earlier Amitabh Bachchan also had to initiate the same action when there was a severe backlash against giving his name to a tobacco product – Kamla Pasand. What is quizzical is whether the image of Akshay Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in the eyes of the public is holier than thou as compared to that of Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan? So far, no backlash has been observed against either Ajay Devgn or Shah Rukh Khan for endorsing the tobacco-based product though the campaign has been running for more than a year now. Even Salman Khan endorsed Rajshri, a tobacco brand, for sometime!

In fact, the spew of advertisements of surrogate branding has been there in the mainstream media for quite some time. In India surrogate advertising was introduced after the introduction of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 read with Cable television Rules, 1994, which banned direct liquor, tobacco and cigarette advertisements.

Surrogate advertisements have been the recourse adopted by the liquor and tobacco industry. As they cannot advertise directly, they chose the path of surrogate advertisement. One of the most famous ways in which surrogate advertisement was run through Soda campaign for the same brand. Bagpiper, which otherwise is a famous liquor brand, came out with an innovative campaign named Bagpiper Soda and it was promoted by film actors as also the sports persons. Stars like Dharmendra, Shatrugan Sinha, Sanjeev Kumar etc., all were associated with promoting the Bagpiper brand, albeit through Soda!

As a brand building strategy the star power of a successful celebrity is used to get around with the sin component associated with a liquor or a tobacco brand and that is how the stars are used to push these brands. The emotional quotient that a star brings for the brand on account of the fan following that he or she has with the fans is the deciding factor for choosing a star to promote a liquor or a tobacco product.

Therefore, we had Priyanka Chopra who endorsed surrogate Rajnigandha brand through Rajnigandha Pearls and later Anushka Sharma endorsed the same brand. The real chutzpah however was with Urmila Matondkar who endorsed 502 Pataka Beedi in the form of 502 Pataka Chai as surrogate and Malaika Arora endorsed Chaini Khaini.

In fact, a beedi company Azad Beedi Company had sponsored one of the International Cricket match in India. Wills Lifestyle, which became a celebrated upmarket lifestyle product, is a successful example of evolution of a tobacco brand into a lifestyle brand. Wills still is one of the most popular cigarette brands, but to expand its outreach Wills Lifestyle products were created by ITC and they have evolved into a niche product of their own, a feat which no other surrogate advertisement product has morphed into! Kingfisher brand is another such example of success and evolution of a liquor brand into a product of diverse categories.

For celebrities it indeed is a razor walk. The endorsements give dirty mollah. It is interesting to share that when the IPL began there was a petition against the name of the Bangalore team Royal Challengers Bangalore and the matter went up to the highest courts of India. The petition against the name was a surrogate endorsement of the popular liquor brand of Vijay Malaya group. Going into the details the court took the stand that the name of the brand was Royal Challenge, while the name of the team was Royal Challengers- Challenge is different and Challengers is different!

Surrogate brands would continue to manifest, as liquor and tobacco are two of the biggest sources of revenue, which a government has. No wonder, even Pierce Brosnan bit the bullet to give his name to a company- Paan Bahar. When clamor was raised Brosnan took the plea that he was cheated and not informed that he would be endorsing a Tobacco brand though in a surrogate manner! And the game would go on.

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