Dear chairperson Saugata Gupta and vice chaiperson Partha Sinha,
The ICC Cricket World Cup is all set to begin today.
As per media reports, Bira 91, Royal Stag and Jacob’s Creek have signed up as ICC partners. Meanwhile, Pernod Ricard, Kingfisher, Black and White and Diageo feature prominently on the list of sponsors of the official World Cup broadcaster/digital platform Disney Star. They are all obviously gearing up for significant brand visibility as sponsors during the mega event.
To me, each one of these brands appears to be a liquor brand. Or so they are sold in the market to consumers.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, Rule 7(2)(viii) clearly prohibits the direct or indirect promotion and advertisement of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants and where in the advertisement are not to use particular colors and layout or presentations associated with the prohibited products. Past experience shows that liquor brands have been masquerading as water, soda, bar accessories, and as they get more innovative and creative are being peddled as books or 0.0% alcohol or ale or AI fan experiences, and more – all flimsy surrogates to circumvent the law.
I have written open letters in the past to ASCI Chairpersons Abanti Sankaranarayanan, Subhash Kamath and NS Rajan on the issue of surrogate advertising of alcohol.
My missives to Abanti and my various exchanges with Subhash are part of the public record.
Because of my untiring crusade to bring erring brands to book on usage of false surrogates, ASCI finally took action in January 2021. Following the liquor brand extension ads that appeared during the IPL on television and OTT platforms, ASCI took up 14 complaints. In two cases, the advertisers apparently agreed to withdraw the advertisements immediately. The other 12 cases were taken to ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) and issued notices.
Manisha Kapoor, secretary general, ASCI, in fact went on record to say, “All these advertisements were found to be in violation of the ASCI code, as advertisers failed to convince the CCC that these were genuine brand extensions, or that they did not have direct or indirect cues of the category whose advertising is restricted or prohibited."
The last IPL was relatively free of surrogate advertising, at least on television (most brands continued to flout the guidelines on digital, though). But from the long list of ICC and Disney Star sponsors, it is clear that the various liquor brands are again lining up for big time action – presumably using dubious and questionable surrogates.
This open letter just to say: Dear ASCI, stay vigilant!
The author is group chairperson, Rediffusion.
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