If it is legal to manufacture it should be legal to advertise it – that’s the argument put forth when it comes to advertising of categories like tobacco and alcohol. Sure, there’s merit in that. But governments and society at large have come to realise the need to restrict advertising of certain products like tobacco. In India, packaging, in-store and on-store are the only places for ‘advertising’ tobacco; there are restrictions on where such products can be sold. There was a time when cinema, TV, print and outdoor were allowed for tobacco advertising – either directly or through the surrogate route.
Speaking of surrogate advertising – alcohol and tobacco brands have attempted to sell everything from music CDs to holidays. Sure they are within the law to do so but I cannot help rue the trickery behind this approach. Liquor brands have had high-decibel campaigns featuring sports & movie celebrities urging one to ‘make it large’ or ‘play bold’. Some even have the brand names associated with sports teams. It is obvious that the surrogate brand is only a front and the actual benefit of advertising is sought for the mother brand. It is all within the spirit of law (no pun intended). But is such advertising only within the earshot of those who are legally allowed to buy & consume the product – not the surrogate one, but the actual intended product? Obviously not. I, as a parent, am uncomfortable with the fact that my 10-year old is sought to be ‘influenced’ by advertising which features her favourite cricket players. In this process brand names familiarity is created from an early age for categories which are not meant for her. I’d rather that children be kept away from the influence of all brands – but alas, that is not be. They get familiar with Barbie, Lego, Pepsi…heck, even an iPhone or Samsung at an early age. Why include liquor brands in that bracket?
I am aware that liquor brands are well within their legal rights to create and market surrogate brands. But can the marketing efforts be focused on reaching out to the legal audience of the intended product? In this day and age of targeted marketing it is possible. But mass media, which ensures everyone (including children) is exposed to their advertising, with slick production values, celebrities mouthing seemingly lofty ‘inspirational’ messages – is where the maximum effort is – especially during cricket telecasts. The tobacco industry has always been accused of devious policies like ’catch them young’. I wonder if this is any different. It is a sham with everyone involved looking the other way, ensuring a win-win (or should I say wink-wink) for the marketer. But in my view, a legally permitted trickery because it influences a vulnerable group it is not meant to influence. What’s more, this group cannot cannot escape its influence.