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The Surrogate Ad Controversy: Amitabh Bachhan And Kamla Pan Masala Brand

Bollywood legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan’s office released an official statement saying that they have scrapped an endorsement deal with Kamla Pasand Pan Masala and that they have even returned his fees for the same.

This move comes on his 79th birthday, weeks after airing the ad, and a sequence of events led to this decision. Since the surrogate ad was aired, mentioning and portraying Kamla Pasand as “silver-coated elaichi'', it drew a lot of social media flak and he was trolled for promoting and endorsing such brands. Initially, Bachchan was defensive, calling it part and parcel of the entertainment ecosystem that provides work to many individuals.

Later, many people commented that he was sending the wrong message to the country, and being such a famous celebrity, he could influence people in the wrong direction by doing such ads. A letter was also addressed to him and Shekhar Salkar, the President of the National Organization For Tobacco Eradication, explaining the adverse impact that pan masala has on the health of the citizens and that he should immediately withdraw from the campaign.

All these events caused a domino effect leading Big B to terminate his endorsement with Kamla Pasand, and he mentioned that he wasn’t aware that it falls under “surrogate advertising”

What Is Surrogate Advertising?

Surrogate means substitute and as the name suggests Surrogate Advertising is when one duplicates the brand image of one product to promote another product under the same brand.

Generally, brands use such channels to promote products that are legally prohibited to advertise directly, and this is when the surrogate advertising tactics help in keeping their brands alive in the minds of consumers.

In India it is very simple - you show a surrogate product to the audience to actually promote banned products occurring mainly in the liquor and tobacco industry. The ban is on the marketing of such products but not on production and sales, hence the marketer’s motive to boost sales is filled by such strategies.

A popular instance of this can be all the liquor products advertised as either a soda or an energy drink, or softly targeting consumers by selling them tobacco-based goods under the disguise of pan masala substitutes.

The Art Of Marketing In Disguise

Surrogate Marketing works majorly on the customer's ability to connect the dots. In such situations, the audience is as smart as marketers and they tend to understand what the brand usually sells and what its main product is.

Here are a few examples -

Carlsberg played a classic move by selling its glasses as disguise items whereas their main product was selling beer. It worked pretty well in combination since glasses can be used to pour the beer they sell and that’s exactly how this strategy works.

Imperial Blue chose CDs to cover for the banned product and very cleverly grabbed the attention of the audience with their popular tagline “Men will be Men'', mastering advertising with a touch of humor.

According to the latest report by IMARC Group, the Pan Masala Market in India has already reached a value of INR 45,585 Crore in 2020 and expects the market to even grow exponentially in the next five years.

In fact, popular celebrities and personalities like Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan have featured together in Vimal Pan Masala ads, Saif Ali Khan has also actively promoted Pan Bahar in the past, and you may also remember Hrithik Roshan endorsing the Signature pan masala brand.

Celebrities are now seen as torchbearers of society so appearances without understanding the category nuances and the possible backlash is a big no. Well, Amitabh Bachchan's situation is quite similar to that of Cristiano Ronaldo when in earlier June this year, he moved aside bottles of Coke during a Euro Cup press conference, and instead reached for a bottle of water, a very crucial development showing the paradigm shift highlighted how celebrities across the world are under pressure to re-evaluate endorsements of unhealthy products.

We think we can sum up the entire astounding concept and feature of Surrogate Marketing with a famous Hindi proverb -

“Hanthi ke daant dikhane ke kuch aur, aur karane ke kuch aur”

What do you think about it?


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