Surrogate Advertising - Hidden Yet Visible Products

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 818 , Published on 04 September 2015

The term 'surrogate' is defined a 'substitute' i.e. anything which takes place of other. It can be a person, human, product etc. In case of surrogate advertising, a product is used to advertise a certain different product. Especially products (for which direct advertising on mass media is prohibited by the laws of land of most countries) are advertised with use of substitutes like mineral water, soda, Mega cricket team clubs, friend clubs or music CDs.

Advertising takes various shapes with level of surrogate advertisements varying from country to country, people to people and product to product. In certain regions of the globe, open advertisements of these products is allowed while some counterparts imposing strict restrictions on them. The basic intention of these type of advertisements is mainly to popularise the brand and create a slot of consideration in the potential consumer’s minds. Let us now understand dynamics of it.

Image: pixabay

There are some pre requisites for Surrogate advertisements to be successful or have an impact-:

1. Target Consumers should have information about surrogate advertisements

This is the most important consideration to be kept in mind while planning for surrogate advertisements. The impact of these type of advertisements is only effective and judged when it reaches the target set in the way it is supposed to be. Viewers should not only see it as an advertisement for a mineral water or soda and should have the ability and the skills to go behind that artificial layer to see the real product otherwise advertisement will lose its impact. Some of the examples where viewers need to see beyond the shown picture are-:

a) Beverage companies advertise in the form of surrogates of music CDs. They are actually advertising for their beverages.

b) They also use substitutes like soda and packages drinking water to advertise. It is actually promoting its beverage brands to the consumers.

It is important to notice the literacy and general sense of consumers to travel that mile behind the silver screen. Generally it is seen (also in India) that target customer base has an adequate knowledge on the dynamics of surrogate advertising and are able to identify the hidden products. This point stands as a start advantage for the companies.

2. Surrogate advertisement will have a role in consumer buying decision

Generally advertisements which showcase the product in a different prospective and highlights the attributes as never been seen before retain the customer share of mind. But there is catch in the case of surrogate advertisements. Here the product is prohibited to be shown- its attributes or features to be portrayed is near to impossible. Their role in impacting the consumer buying decision should be subsequently limited but surprisingly, it is found that they have a higher role in impacting consumer purchase decisions as compared to general products’ advertisement owing largely to viewer’s interest and sense of capturing the message. This fact is also supported by numbers. It is seen that company investing heavily in surrogate advertisements are witnessing more sales rates as compared to those investing none or comparatively less. You will be surprised to know advertising budget of beverage companies stretches in the ranges of hundreds of millions of dollars per annum. The only reason understood of investing such high sums is the fact of the recovery through this in the coming future. After all it’s a 60000 crore+ revenue generating market.

3. Respondent consumers should have a fair idea of the leading brands of these products

May be this factor does not look so significant but gives a sort of a comparative push to the products. Marketers of some not so well known brands or new brands use this technique. They make the advertisements having a comparable creativity and a message delivery element as the leading brand of that category. Consumers immediately identify and relate to it as the top notch aspiration brand to look forward for next purchase and that is what changes the scenario of perception for these brands which leads to subsequent sales. As there is no actual product shown, only the message element and the creativity factor gives it that equality appeal.

Mainstream limelight on surrogate advertisements

Over the decade, there has been a noticeable shift in the creativity and display of advertisements. It has more come into the area of identification and recognition by the collaboration of big names (celebrities) with these advertisements. There have been cases of association of big names like M.S. Dhoni (cricketer), Shahrukh Khan (actor) etc. with these brands giving them a quick spotlight. Also these advertisements are displayed with an element of discipline, manhood, power, character etc. imbedded in them which makes them stand apart and changes the negative perception of people regarding these products. It is because of this that now these beverages are considered more of a social drinks rather than drinks for the “bad” men. Also the mediums on which these type of advertisements are active are quite prominent. E.g.

1. Television – This is the most common mode of advertisement. As we have discussed earlier in the article, substitutes are used to portray the concerned product. Advertisements of beverages are significant example of these.

2. Online advertising- This has become one of the widest medium for use after the boom of technology and internet globally. Companies can find easy audiences here which fall in the potential target segments. This medium also has advantages of low costs and more target customer’s effective reach. Beverage Companies promote their products extensively through this medium be it social networking platforms or community forums.

3. Billboard Advertising- In the outdoor world far from the silver screen of moving images and sound, billboards are used for these type of advertisements. For the brand to choose this way, they need to create a strong brand identification among consumers. Generally the name of the brand along with the image from the TVC or the message are used which creates the immediate recall among the consumers for the brand products if they are exposed to it earlier in one form or the other.

4. Sponsorship of live events/shows/fests- Companies partner with music concerts, live shows, college fests etc. for sponsorship to give their brands the much needed visibility. Generally beverage is perceived as a youth oriented product with that group forming a large part of its customer base. These type of shows, concerts etc. are much more attractive to youth and are created keeping their interests in mind. Tapping on that factor, companies sync their name with these type of programmes to give them the benefit of popularity or fame of the product it associates with.

It is not that surrogate marketing is a bad way of marketing or illegal marketing. It is just the more creative way if marketing that shows the product even without revealing it. As potential marketers or even viewers, we need to be familiar with this domain as we are exposed to it as part of our daily lives. Instead of ignoring it and considering it as “not our business”, we can create opportunities not only for us but also for many others in this zone of business as it is most vulnerable to growth. Opportunities are hidden everywhere just like the products in surrogate advertisements. If we are able to see and tap those, we are the ultimate winners. The basic purpose of writing this article was communicating the richness of this filed and the need for fresh talent and creative minds in this area. If this message is passed, purpose is well achieved!!

This article has been authored by Ankit Aggarwal from IIM Kashipur


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