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Surrogate advertising is a marketing strategy in which a company appears to be advertising one product or brand, when it is really advertising another; for example, an apparent lung cancer ad might really advertise a cigarette brand. This is only used when a company is banned from advertising a certain product, such as cigarettes or alcohol. One type of surrogate advertising involves using TV commercials that mention a product for which a company is not known as a way of bringing up the idea of a product for which the company is known. Sponsoring events and sporting teams is another example of this advertising. Public service announcements also are commonly used to advertise these products.
Many companies make TV commercials, but most of them advertise a product directly. Some companies may be banned from doing this under a region’s particular laws, so the company creates a commercial that highlights an item outside the brand’s normal products. For example, a company known for making alcohol may make a commercial that highlights a new soft drink. The commercial itself is made to advertise the soft drink but, because the company is known for making alcohol, many viewers will automatically think of the alcoholic beverage when they see the soft drink ad.
Another type of surrogate advertising is done through sponsorships, usually of events or sports teams, but it also could be for things such as scholarships, parks and foundations. In this type of advertising, the company is rarely advertising anything. All the company does is leaves its logo somewhere, such as on a wall at an event or the outside perimeter of a sporting event, and this places the idea of the brand in the consumers' mind. The company is not technically advertising anything, just showing its logo, which is within most regions' laws governing acceptable advertising.
Most of the products banned by surrogate advertising laws are associated with health risks; for example, cigarettes are linked to lung cancer and other diseases. A surrogate advertising method in this case might be a public service announcement (PSA) about the risks of smoking, though the PSA might use the company’s colors or logo. This informs consumers about the hazards of using the product but, at the same time, attracts consumers to a certain brand because the announcement subtly alludes to it.
The legality of surrogate advertising is questionable in some regions and countries, so companies should check local laws before using any surrogate methods. While there are many areas that allow this type of advertising, others will sue the company. Aside from pulling the advertisements, the company also may be fined and face other penalties.