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It's bye to tobacco ads in two days
... but picture on surrogates still smoky

P.T. Jyothi Datta
Purvita Chatterjee

Mumbai , April 28

TOBACCO advertising is dead... , long live tobacco advertising may end up being the reality of the ban that comes into effect on May 1.

In-your-face hoardings on a Marlboro or a Four Square, for instance, will go down in a couple of days. But tobacco brands such as Wills are expected to stay alive in public memory through their brand extensions, a situation that the rules of the Anti-Tobacco Law is yet to get a grip on.

Union Health Ministry officials told Business Line that State governments have been asked to bring down their tobacco-related hoardings and advertisements by April 30. On dealing with surrogate advertisements, the official said: "Line extensions in business will require some broad thinking. One will require more creativity to tackle the tobacco industry." Given that the ban has not taken tobacco majors by surprise, most of them have worked on strategies that do not involve mainline advertising. From creating surrogates to setting up new business ventures to extend brand names of their tobacco offerings, tobacco companies have been gearing up for the ban, according to the advertising fraternity. Revenues from tobacco-related advertising are estimated at Rs 250 crore.

Mr Navin Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary (Public Health) in Maharashtra, said the tobacco-advertising ban covered surrogates, too. That apart, smoking in public places and selling to children below 15 years will also become punishable from May 1, he said.

Arterial roads in the business district of the Mumbai landscape, for instance, are dotted with hoardings from Wills Sport, the apparel brand from ITC. So will they have to come down too? "As for legitimate line extensions, prosecuting agencies, such as the police and the Food and Drug Administration, may have to examine on a case-by-case basis," Mr Kumar said.

Surrogates by companies have today become a serious business venture. According to Mr Rajiv Sabnis, Senior Vice-President, Contract Advertising, "What began as a surrogate for the brand has become a serious business venture for companies. Such products are now no longer surrogates but a business diversification of the company to take the brand forward."

Said Mr M. Suku, National Director, Broadmind, the non-traditional arm of Group M, "Tobacco companies have a back-up plan and are now expected to increase their dependence on non-traditional media."

With more below-the-line activities, there will be more business for promotion and event management companies. But ad agencies will never get the same revenues they once attracted from tobacco advertising. The law restricts advertising to within shops, with further limitations on the size of signages.

Tobacco companies, in fact, set the benchmark for outdoor advertising. Mr J.C. Giri, Country Head, Ogilvy Landscapes, the outdoor division of O&M, which handles the outdoor account for all ITC cigarette brands, said: "It was ITC that changed the look and feel of tobacco advertising. It was an outdoor-friendly client who changed the aesthetics of outdoor displays." Ad agencies are, indeed, bound to miss their tobacco clients.

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