I&B ministry set to take a close look at surrogate advertising

Manufacturers of liquor and tobacco products advertising on various TV channels under the garb of surrogate advertising, beware.

The information and broadcasting ministry is in the process of setting up a high-powered multi-ministerial committee to look into the issue of surrogate advertising. What's more, this time the government will also crack down on those brands that use historical events like the famous Dandi march during pre-independence days.

On the hit list, still being finalised, are big companies advertising high profile products that, under the Indian laws, are banned from being advertised. The list may include the ad related to Dandi salt, Kamdhenu `sariyas' (iron strip rods), Bacardi Blast music cassettes and CDs and various brands of mineral and drinking water being manufactured by liquor/beer companies. The total ad spend of surrogate advertising on television is estimated at Rs 900 million annually.

"The multi-ministerial committee, under the chairmanship of additional secretary in the I&B ministry, will be constituted soon within a few days. The agenda of the committee will be to look into the issue of surrogate advertising and define what constitutes such advertising which is quite rampant and is an insult to public sensibilities," a senior government official told yesterday.

A senior executive of a media company running several popular Hindi and English language channels admitted that if the government is serious on cracking down on such surrogate advertising, it will have some impact on the advertising revenues as liquor companies in particular are in overdrive through surrogate ads.

Indicating that for the first time a serious look is being given to this issue, the government official said that the committee will include representatives, no less than that of a joint secretary level in the government, from ministries of empowerment, law and justice, home affairs and finance. "Apart from these, there will representation from the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and various NGOs through the ministries," the official said.

It seems that stung by the inadequacy of broadcasters to address this particular issue, the government has decided to take the initiative. "After identifying some TV commercials in particular which are on air and offend sensibilities, the committee will recommend to ASCI to direct ad agencies concerned to withdraw those commercials within a stipulated period of time which will be very short," the official explained.

The Dandi salt and Kamdhenu 'sariyas' have been identified as commercials, which use historical events to promote products. For instance, the latter highlights the tension between India and Pakistan and the Agra meeting of Pakistan President and the Indian Prime Minister to promote the products.

The punchline of the commercial: we wish strong relationships were built the way the way our products help build strong buildings. "Such instances are deplorable and will not be tolerated," the government official said.

The broadcasters in the past had attempted to address the issue of surrogate advertising, but nothing concrete had come out of those initiatives.

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