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What is Surrogate Advertising?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Surrogate advertising is advertising which embeds a brand or product message inside an advertisement which is ostensibly for another brand or product. For example, a cigarette company might issue public service announcements relating to a topic such as lung cancer, using the company's logo or distinctive brand colors in the ads so that people are exposed to the company's branding without seeing an explicit ad for the company's product. The company would justify the advertisement by claiming that it's an example of social responsibility.

There are a number of reasons for companies to use surrogate advertising. One of the most common reasons is to circumvent a ban on direct advertisements of particular products. Many nations have laws restricting alcohol and tobacco advertising, for example, so companies use surrogate advertising to market their products. Techniques used might include advertising another product with the same brand name, sponsoring community events, issuing public service announcements, or sponsoring sports teams. All of these activities technically do not violate the ban on direct advertising, but they still get consumers familiar with the company's branding.

Surrogate advertising may also be used when companies want to cultivate an image of social responsibility. For example, many health advocates have criticized advertisements for sweet treats aired during children's cartoons. A company might pull outright advertising during these time slots and instead air a series of public service announcements about eating a balanced diet, with the announcements bearing the company's branding.

Pharmaceuticals are another product with advertising restrictions. Historically, pharmaceutical companies were not allowed to advertise prescription medications at all. This regulation was relaxed in some countries, but some restrictions were left in place. Using surrogate advertising allows companies to get around those regulations. For instance, the manufacturer of an asthma medication might sponsor informational commercials about managing the condition, with the medication branding scattered throughout the advertisement to get consumers used to the brand and to imply that the medication plays an important role in managing asthma.

Some nations have expressed concern about surrogate advertising, and have started prosecuting companies which use such advertising to subvert bans on explicit advertisements. If a government can prove that a company crossed a regulatory line with its advertisements, it can force the advertising campaign to be pulled, and the company may be required to pay a fine. Advertising agencies have been known for being innovative and clever, and they are likely to adapt to closer government scrutiny.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon953427 — On May 26, 2014

Surrogate products like club soda for an alcohol brand must have its own revenue model as a mandate. At least that's how it happens in India.

By anon182022 — On Jun 01, 2011

It was great to know basics of surrogate advertising. It helped me a lot to initiate my study report for the project.

By BambooForest — On Jan 13, 2011

@sherlock87, that can be especially true for youth advertising, and can lead to upsetting people; for example, a group of young characters on a television show using a certain type of alcohol is product placement and therefore surrogate advertising; while it may interest potential customers, it can be seen as questionable or a bad influence if those characters are drinking underage or otherwise obtained the products illegally within the show, which could lead others to stop watching show or using the product.

By sherlock87 — On Jan 12, 2011

Another term for surrogate advertising is product placement. For example, when a television show or movie shows people using a certain product, eating a certain food, or drinking a certain kind of soda, that is product placement. You are already interested in what is going on in the show, so seeing the brands characters use can be subliminal and very lucrative for some companies.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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