Surrogate advertising is a strategy to advertise unsuitable products (like cigarettes) by marketing other products that aren’t as harmful. It’s ironic because people often get addicted to the product they’re not supposed to be consuming. Essentially, companies are trying to get attention through wittiness and humor.
- Companies that employ surrogates are willing to risk ethical issues in order to be able to reach their target audience.
- Creative marketing teams enlist surrogates through creative and innovative means to inculcate their message into the cultural subconscious.
David McLean and Wayne McLaren, the two famous 1960’s models/actors who were seen promoting a cigarette advertising campaign signifying the ‘manhood’ and ‘independent lifestyle,’ eventually became anti-smoking crusaders after years of smoking and developing lung cancer.
Why do Companies Surrogate Advertise?
Britain marked the beginning of Surrogate Advertising when women protested against liquor advertisements, stating that they induced their husbands into alcohol consumption (Mehta, 2003). The concept of banning advertisements related to products and/or services that were harmful to human lives started coming into existence in many countries. Therefore, the companies devised indirect yet smart ways to advertise products like liquor and tobacco to capture public attention. Since then, the trend has been never-ending and continuously raises the ironic standards of attracting people to toxicity.
It is shocking to believe that a large part of the population, including doctors in large numbers, indulged in smoking without even knowing that tobacco is injurious to health. It was very late when, near 1912, tobacco was discovered harmful for human consumption in a study conducted by Dr. Isaac Adler (Proctor, 2012). The 1930s-1960s was marked as the period when cigarette brands were being massively advertised by top actors/models as cowboys and various other influential roles to highlight the manhood and ‘class’ of the smokers (Romano, 2009). These cigarette advertisements were proudly promoted on the grounds of richness, flavor, smoothness, and size, and a few even bore – ‘doctor’s recommended’ as a tagline. It was somewhere in the nineties when the greatest paradox in the history of advertisements was witnessed: two models/actors advertising for a well-known cigarette brand David McLean and Wayne McLaren stood up and spoke about the disastrous effects of smoking, which led them to death. While some countries started banning advertisements for liquor and tobacco, the public also began to criticize ads of such harmful nature, and the liquor & tobacco companies did not have substantial grounds to promote their products any longer.
Surrogate Advertisements then started taking the front seat on the TV commercials, and why not? Ironically, the audiences somehow began witnessing and enjoying the wittiness and humor behind the surrogate ads. The companies advertised the core product by launching a socially acceptable and consumer-friendly product of a similar brand and nature to register the socially unacceptable product (core) into the minds of people. Since then, liquor and tobacco brands have been launching and advertising a wide range of surrogate products like soda, music CDs, chips, and non-tobacco mouth fresheners, with various messages coding: ‘celebrating friendship,’ classiness, manhood, and whatnot. These companies have also actively participated in event-based marketing by hosting sports meet and bravery award events, sponsoring various sports matches, and many other events that address a noble cause or a sports activity. In comparison, the nature of such companies contradicts the choice of events held for promoting their main (anti-social) products.
In the race of surrogate advertising, one of the participants who does not come very much into notice is gambling: ‘the Online casinos.’ One of the widely known online casinos is said to master publicity stunts and be in the news every now and then. From paying a woman to change her name officially to the casino’s name to getting another woman to tattoo the casino’s name on her forehead in exchange for sponsoring her child’s education, the gambling company (online casino) has left no stone unturned (Haines, 2005). Gambling is prohibited in quite a few countries because it is considered unhealthy and seen to be addictive. Irrespective of the ban on not only gambling advertisements but also on gambling itself in several countries, online casinos cross the legal frames and provide accessibility to countries like Canada, Qatar, India, and Pakistan, exploiting their legal restrictions and failing the ethical codes which a business is supposed to maintain (Kathuria & Dhaulta, 2018).
Leave Aside Ethical; Is It Even Honest?
Alcohol, tobacco, and gambling being unhealthy for consumption and practice, have nothing to be advertised about; even the message coded in surrogate ads does not have any relevance to the product or brand. We, as an audience, are allowing these brands to stereotype based on gender and help them build a brandish bridge with the upcoming generation by applauding their witty and humor-filled surrogate ads. We need to understand and educate ourselves about the very fact that these kinds of advertisements are false, dishonest, and misleading and are using ‘by hook or by crook’ strategies to get noticed. After several legal restrictions, they managed to find a loophole that allows them to advertise while remaining in the law-binding agreement. As responsible citizens, we uphold some responsibilities as well, one of which is not entertaining but rather boycotting surrogate advertisements of products that have been adopting unethical means.
Consequently, consumer awareness and active discouragement of surrogate advertising can make these companies realize their corporate social responsibility. Any noble effort of funding or organizing events for celebrating peace and prosperity in exchange for ‘getting noticed’ will not help and let such companies exhibit their uncompassionate behavior towards society. The advertising paradox will continue to exist until any product or service, which has no firm grounds to get advertised, is still being advertised for the sole purpose of earning profits.
Haines, L. (2005). Online casino tattoos woman’s face. Theregister.com. Retrieved 1 May 2022, from https://www.theregister.com/2005/07/01/casino_tattoos_womans_face/.
Kathuria, K., & Dhaulta, N. (2018). Means and Ends in Cross Border Marketing: Ethical Dimensions of Promotional Activities of The Online Casino. Prabandhan: Indian Journal of Management, 11(4), 47-53.
Mehta, P. (2003). Surrogate advertising — Needed, a spirited attack. Thehindubusinessline.com. Retrieved 1 May 2022, from https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/article28914711.ece.
Proctor, R. N. (2012). The history of the discovery of the cigarette–lung cancer link: evidentiary traditions, corporate denial, global toll. Tobacco Control, 21(2), 87-91.
Romano, T. (2009). Early 1960’s Cigarette Ads [Video]. Retrieved 1 May 2022, from https://youtu.be/uyCl3BdlICY.