Chapter: important notes (Blog)

facebook Instagram Linkin twitter

What Is Surrogate Advertising in India? – Definition, Advantages, Disadvantages & Examples

Brand Board Media

June 30, 2023
What Is Surrogate Advertising in India?

Creativity knows no bounds

No, the previous sentence isn't as generic as it reads. It fits rightly and precisely in the context of this article--surrogate advertising.

Suppose you've encountered an advertisement using sly marketing tactics where products hide in plain sight. In that case, you might have caught a glimpse of surrogate advertising—an ad whose storyline may be totally unrelated to the product. But irrelevant doesn't mean not creative, right?

You also would have scratched your head watching an ad, wondering why three suited men were selling Tobacco in the first place. To turn your confusion into curiosity, we're all set to take you into the world of surrogate advertising. Let's begin by understanding what surrogate advertising in our country is!

Surrogate Advertising in India

In India, tobacco products and alcohol can’t be advertised directly under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, which bans all types of direct and indirect advertisements of tobacco products. Also, brands or gaming apps are prohibited from directly promoting gambling or addiction of any sort. So if your brand falls under any of these categories, surrogate advertising is a way to go about promoting your product.

What is Surrogate Advertising?

The meaning of surrogate is a substitute. In the world of advertising, it means promoting a substitute product instead of the intended product which is banned from advertising. Therefore, these types of advertisements are also known as substitute ads. Tobacco, alcohol, gambling, etc., are a few examples wherein direct advertising is illegal or highly regulated. Their obvious resort is surrogate advertising.

The most direct benefit of these surrogate ads is engraving the brand name in the minds of consumers, which can ultimately lead to increased sales of the intended product over the counter. If you're starting a new business, you might wonder how to choose a brand name that will stick with your potential customers. It's important to consider factors such as uniqueness, memorability, and relevance to your target audience. By choosing a solid brand name, you can establish a strong brand identity and attract more customers to your business.

Types of Surrogate Advertising

Some prominent ways for surrogate advertising are:


Many companies indirectly use promotional items that feature their logo or name to advertise their restricted products on t-shirts, hats, keychains, or other merchandise items

Marlboro is a stellar example of creating its visibility through merchandising. It is an American brand of cigarettes that created its brand awareness by associating its logo and brand identity with an adventurous, rugged lifestyle. The t-shirts reflected the same!

Marlboro merchandise logo t-shirt

(Image credit:

Moreover, in the early fifties, the brand was seen by many as a cigarette for women. The brand then came up with a new marketing gimmick to change this. In order to materialise the missing masculinity, Marlboro's marketers came up with Marlboro Man– an American cowboy riding a horse which didn't just represent manhood but also sold Marlboros.

Poster of Marlboro Man

(image credit -

Brand Extension

Certain companies promote existing or new products under the same brand name as their highly regulated products. For instance, an alcohol brand might promote a chain of non-alcoholic beverages or mineral water under the same brand name.

Budweiser, a popular beer brand is an apt example as it launched a Budweiser Zero, a non-alcoholic beer variant under the same brand name.

Product Placement

Placing a product in TV shows, movies, or other media platforms enables sublet advertising. Companies put their products on such platforms and avoid directly promoting the highly regulated products.

For example, the Heinekens brand was promoted in the movie Skyfall starring Daniel Craig. The scene depicts Bond himself doing a cook trick with three cans of Heinekens and is shown twice in the entire movie. The company paid 45 million dollars to be a part of this film.


This is one of the most prevalent ways of promoting a banned product. Companies sponsor activities or events unrelated to the product but prominently display their brand logo or name in the event. They subtly promote their highly regulated products when they associate their brand name with popular events.

NH7 Weekender, an annual, multi-city and multi-genre, music and comedy festival held in an apt example. The festival is sponsored by Bacardi which is a brand of white rum

NH7 Events website sponsored by Bacardi

Image Credit:

Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

Companies engaging in corporate social responsibility initiatives endorse their involvement through promotion. While the intention of CSR activity is environmental cause, incorporating the company’s brand name or logo creates indirect brand promotion. We’re assuming you know about a few ways of surrogate advertising by now. Let’s take a look at its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages Surrogate Advertising

The tactic has been a go-to for many brands for a reason. Let’s look at a few advantages of surrogate advertising.

Effective for Massive Revenue Generation

Since it’s difficult to advertise certain regulated products which may be primary products of a brand via other mediums, surrogate advertising creates awareness about the brand and its aux products that in turn increases the sale of their primary products. Think of it as a secret that everyone knows!

Low Competition

Surrogate advertising significantly reduces competition because of the challenges and restrictions for new products in the industry. Moreover, the brand willing to retort to surrogate advertising requires a massive budget to hire celebrities and public figures to promote the brand. This makes it difficult for new entrants, eventually reducing the competition.

It helps your brand stay on top of the customer’s mind

Every brand wants to keep on top of their customer’s minds but liquor, tobacco, or similar brands cannot directly advertise their products. Surrogate advertising helps them create brand awareness passively. While Bacardi may promote their mineral water, people are not going to buy its water, are they? They will recall the brand when purchasing liquor as an outcome of advertising.

While surrogate advertising has its benefits, it also has several disadvantages. Now that we’ve looked at its advantages, it’s time to take a look at its disadvantages.

Disadvantages of Surrogate Advertising

A few prominent disadvantages of surrogate advertising are:

Promotes Deceptive Practices

Surrogate advertising is seen as deceptive since it indirectly promotes highly regulated products or products that are limited from advertising under government regulations. This also misguides consumers who may not be aware of the real intention behind the ad, leading to a lack of transparency.

Poses Ethical Concerns

When brands promote highly regulated products or products that may have a negative impact on public health or adverse social impact, it raises ethical concerns. Brands promoting such products may be perceived as disregarding public health concerns or social responsibility.

Causes Consumer Confusion

Surrogate ads confuse consumers since they create associations between totally unrelated products and the brand. This disconnect leads to immense confusion among the consumers since they fail to recognise the actual brand identity, eventually jeopardising consumer loyalty and trust. It is a crucial brand consumer insight for a brand to make more informed decisions about its marketing strategies.

Surrogate Advertising with Examples

Surrogate advertisements, mainly in India, are done in the alcohol or tobacco industry due to the ban on direct liquor and tobacco ads. Hence, the brands found a way around the ban to promote these products to the masses through surrogate ads.

Bagpiper, one of India's top whiskey brands, is an excellent example of the surrogate ad. The video ad shows water, soda, and music, and the brand tries to sell its product under Bagpiper club soda. Its tagline Khub Jamega Rang stayed on top of our heads for a long time.

Vimal Elaichi starring Ajay Devgan, is another example of surrogate advertising.

Did India Ban Commercial Surrogacy?

Yes, the new set of guidelines issued by the government prohibited surrogate advertising and made it a compulsion for celebrities to reveal any stake in such brands they endorse. The policies basically target misleading advertisements.

However, certain brands still practice surrogate advertising despite the guidelines since it seems to be the only way to gain visibility.

In a Nutshell

Surrogate advertising is the only option for marketers to advertise highly regulated products or products that are limited from advertising under government regulations in the disguise of another product of their brand. As a reader, consumer or a business owner, we’d love to know your thoughts on surrogate advertising. Do you support this practice or have you practised it for your business? How did that go? Let us know in the comments! Or if you're looking for expert media planning, reach out to Brand Board Media, the top media planning agency in India. We can help you navigate the complex world of advertising regulations and develop a successful marketing campaign for your business.

Written By

Brand Board Media



Psychology of Color in Branding and Marketing

It just takes 90 seconds to form a first impression of a product. In the world of branding and marketing, where first impressions are everything, the power.....

30 October, 2023


What Is Surrogate Advertising in India? – Definition, Advantages, Disadvantages & Examples

Creativity knows no bounds.No, the previous sentence isn't as generic....

30 June, 2023