Surrogate Marketing: The art of marketing in disguise

Surrogate Marketing an advertisement that duplicates the brand image of one product to promote another product

Hello Readers,

We have a question for you.

How will the marketers promote a product that they are not supposed to promote in the first place?

These products could be alcohol, cigarettes, or tobacco. There is a ban on the marketing of such products. So what a marketer is supposed to do here?

The solution to this conundrum lies in the concept of ‘Surrogate Marketing‘.

What is Surrogate Marketing?

It is a strategy where the marketers advertise and promote banned products in the disguise of some other substitute product.

Let’s elaborate this further with the help of an example. Have you ever seen a Carlsberg Club glasses advertisement? An advertisement for glasses sounds strange, right? But in reality, it’s not the glasses that it promotes, it indirectly promotes Carlsberg beers. Beer, being an alcoholic drink, cannot be promoted directly. So, introducing a substitute product is a way of creating brand awareness.

Not all products get a chance to be featured on advertising platforms. There is a prohibition on the marketing of some of the products. So marketers have a solution for this as well, and that is Surrogate Marketing. The marketer remains with the only option of advertising in the disguise of another product of their brand.

These are some brands and the surrogate products they show in advertising.

McDowell’s No.1Water and Soda
Officer’s ChoicePlaying Cards
Imperial BlueMusic CD
Johnny WalkerSoda
RajnigandhaSilver Pearls
KingfisherCalendar, Soda and Water
BacardiMusic CD and Cassettes  

So why is marketing “banned” on these products?

So, our readers might have a question as to why the marketing of products like cigarettes, tobacco, and liquor is banned. The simple answer is that these products are not good for your health and wellness. They are injurious for consumption.

For example, a chain-smoker will buy cigarettes and consume it, but it is a fact that cigarette severely impacts one’s health by causing cancer, heart disease, lung diseases, and stroke.

So, when such products are promoted more, then it is not considered an ethical practice in marketing as its consumers can face serious health problems and can even cause death. But despite the impositions, the products have a huge demand in the market because consumers are addicted to such products and therefore there is no ban on their consumption.

How and why Surrogate Marketing originated?

It all started in Britain. The housewives’ protests lead to the ban on the promotion of liquor. They protested on the issue that their husbands get more provoked to consume liquor if they see its advertisements. The main concern was the impact of such advertisements on consumers’ health. So eventually it resulted in the ban of products like liquor, tobacco, and cigarettes.

The ban is on the marketing of such products but not on production and sales. The marketers have the motive to increase sales, so they started selling such products under the name of other items.

Do the customers understand its marketing in disguise?

Now the thing is that Surrogate Marketing works on the understanding of the customers. The audience is as smart as marketers and understands what the brand usually sells and what its main product is. In this marketing, the marketer promotes a supplementary product or item that customers use with the consumption of banned products.

We already know about Carlsberg glasses. Carlsberg sells its glasses as disguise items because it can be used to pour the beer they sell. They don’t even have to show their beer advertisement, and that’s how this strategy works.

Similarly, Royal Challenge sells mineral water, and everyone knows that liquor is consumed with water.

The marketer’s job is to create awareness for its brand without even advertising the forbidden product. Surrogate Marketing is all about finding ways to promote products that they’re not supposed to market.

How brands promote with Surrogate Marketing

Video Advertising

Advertising on T.V is the most common way of creating brand awareness. Most marketers use this as their marketing tool. In Surrogate Marketing as well, marketers create impressive and creative advertisements.

Let’s look at the examples:

Magic Moments Music Studio & CDs

The brand sells vodka as their primary product. But in the video ad, there is just a glimpse of the actual product they sell, and the ad is created in the disguise of Music CDs and Studio. Now the link between music and liquor is that the consumers are fond of music while drinking.

Rajnigandha Silver Pearls

Tobacco is also on the list of banned products. Rajnigandha sells ‘pan-masala’ in its range. So, the brand sells silver cardamom and promotes them as their tobacco-free product.

Imperial Blue Music CDs

Another brand that uses CDs to cover the banned product is Imperial Blue. But the brand has mastered advertising with a touch of humour. Their ads under the tagline “Men will be men” are very popular and grab the attention of the audience.

Officer’s Choice Playing cards

Officer's choice Playing cards example of surrogate marketing

The funny thing about this advertisement is that you got to see playing cards advertisement. The fact that cards are used in ads is because the consumers often play cards while consuming such products.

Sponsoring events and tournaments

This is another way that brands use for promoting the banned products indirectly.

Indian Premier League

Kingfisher sponsors the IPL

It is India’s biggest cricket tournament. Also, many brands sponsor the teams and the whole tournament. Kingfisher sponsors the IPL as its good times’ partner.


Sunburn is a music festival that takes place in India. Many liquor brands sponsor this event, like Carlsberg, Kingfisher, and Magic Moments. This event is a huge platform to do Surrogate Marketing.

Bacardi NH7 Weekender

Bacardi NH7 Weekender Music Festival - Surrogate marketing example

It is the music festival that was sponsored by Bacardi, a liquor brand. It is another example of combining music and liquor.

Final Thoughts

Every brand has the aim of creating awareness and increasing its sales, and without marketing, this task becomes implausible. The nature of some of the products like alcohol, tobacco or cigarettes, poses an ethical issue while marketing them.

Despite the restrictions, companies only have the mode of Surrogate Marketing to promote their products. This practice is quite controversial but still works well for the brands.

Without Surrogate Marketing, such brands would not even exist and that’s the essence of Surrogate Marketing. If you recognize the actual product that hides behind another, then we can say this strategy works well.

Now, the question arises, if not ‘Surrogate Marketing’ then what?

What other modes could the companies use to promote their products?

Maybe they could use an altogether new medium.

Let us know in the comment section below if you agree with this concept or not.

Vipul Agarwal
My drive comes from my passion for marketing. Moreover, I love to assist others and help them with all my might in their goal fulfillment. My educational journey in the fields of engineering and management has prepared me to understand the nuances of this industry and stay up to date with all the latest advancements through continued learning and development. I believe a healthy mind resides in a healthy body. So I utilize my leisure time in exercising and eating healthy. I indulge in various help books to understand the world we live in, a little better.