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.