11.7 Promotional events

In its submission to the 2003 Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (TAP Act) review, the Cancer Council Australia highlighted how the tobacco industry uses event-based marketing to promote its products to young people:

'Typically, products are sold and displayed in a glamorous or "cool" setting, such as a nightclub or fashion or music event. The product benefits from the associations created with the event or venue, the people present at the event or venue, and other brands that are being marketed there. The events and venues generally have no restrictions on smoking, creating a perfect environment in which to create the desired associations between smoking and both the other experiences being enjoyed and the positive elements of the surrounding context and environment as a whole. Many of these events, particularly outdoor music events, are not restricted to those over the age of 18, so the youth who are exposed to the marketing are both young adults and much younger teenagers'(p14).1


The submission detailed more than 25 examples of event-based marketing across Australia. An illustrative example of historical interest, Wavesnet, is highlighted in the boxed case study.i

Despite state-level attempts to control these activities (most states have banned mobile cigarette girls and boys and most states have also now banned all tobacco sales from under 18 events) —see Table 11.4.1, Section 11.4—event-based marketed persisted for some time. Two examples include:

  • The Big Day Out (2007), the biggest outdoor youth music event of the Australian summer, held in cities around the country, granted exclusive sales right to Imperial Tobacco. At the Sydney event, Imperial promoted and sold the Peter Stuyvesant brand. The cigarettes are sold from 'smoking lounges' where patrons could stop and smoke.2 The company stated that this was purely a sales agreement, not a promotional opportunity.
  • In April 2007, guests of a Fashion TV Red Ribbon Foundation party at the Sydney Opera House were given complimentary packages of Davidoff cigarettes.3 While it is prohibited in New South Wales to distribute free samples of cigarettes to members of the public, events that are restricted to members of a relevant trade (i.e. hospitality) are permitted to distribute free samples. It is unclear from media reports if the event in question was a relevant trade-specific party.

Wavesnet: a case study of event-based marketing

For many years tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris has been communicating with the predominantly female smokers of its brand Alpine cigarettes in various guises. The strategy began in the late 1990s with a quarterly magazine called Waves and the sponsorship of graduate designers fashion shows, and then developed to include gifts such as make-up and cosmetic bags sold with Alpine packs. Part of the aim was to develop a database of Alpine smokers, which apparently numbered about 40 000 by the time the Internet was integrated into the mix. Databases are important to tobacco companies as they provide a way of communicating directly with their customers and constitute a valuable source of market research.

The internet strategy began with the registration of Wavesnet as a company in October 2000 and the development of a funky website (www.wavesnet.net) as a promotional tool. Mojo, the advertising agency managing the Alpine account, established the site. The link to Philip Morris was not immediately evident; however, a search of who controls the Wavesnet company revealed that it has three directors and a company secretary who are either directors of Mojo or its holding company, Publicis. Philip Morris has since confirmed that it licensed the use of the Wavesnet trademark to Publicis.

The Wavesnet website promoted accessories and a series of young designer fashion shows—Fashion's Future Designer Awards—in nightclubs in a number of capital cities. It also included an online survey where visitors to the site could subscribe and obtain free entry to the fashion shows, free drinks, gifts and invitations to future events. The fashion awards were also promoted in women's magazines. The site was promoted to young women in various media as a place to 'shop 4 the latest accessories @ www.wavesnet.net … & 10% off everything when u join wavesnet'. Later the promoters became more explicit in their event promotion, running a series of dance parties under the banner Glisten.

The events heavily promoted Alpine cigarettes, a brand almost exclusively smoked by women. The colours used on the website and at the events were themed around the colours on the Alpine packs. The only cigarettes available during the event were Alpine cigarettes sold by women in outfits colour co-ordinated with the pack and the lighting. An organiser for other major events has revealed that in return for handing over sponsorship dollars for another event, Philip Morris wanted 'its corporate colours to be evident at the rave, and for cigarette sellers in fetching outfits to roam the dance floors looking for customers', thereby achieving greater exposure of tobacco products to potential customers.

Computer terminals at the Wavesnet fashion events allowed attendees to sign up on-site. Wavesnet's general manager confirmed that there were plans to host more events and that building up a database of members' likes and dislikes was one of the reasons for the existence of the Wavesnet website.

A key element of the strategy is affinity marketing—leveraging the power of other popular youth brands and products such as cosmetics, compact disks, confectionery, lingerie and clothing with the target market. At the State final of Wavesnet's Fashion's Future Design Awards—Who will you be wearing next?—in Melbourne, all attendees were given free gift packs including products such as lingerie, jewellery, herbal tea, mouse pads, magazines, CDs and confectionery.

Not all the sponsors were informed about the involvement of Philip Morris and Alpine cigarettes. The editor of a female online magazine, Femail, which promoted Wavesnet's Fashion's Future Design Awards, was not aware that its paid advertorial was sponsored by Philip Morris or that the company owned the Wavesnet trademark. Philip Morris's involvement was not mentioned in the online copy. Later, other sponsors of the Glisten events were also concerned at being linked to Philip Morris; for example, one of the co-sponsors, De Jour tampons, withdrew its support after it was told of Philip Morris's involvement. The company owner said that she did not want her company associated with Philip Morris and would not have agreed to be involved had she known of this prior to the events.

Following controversy over the Wavesnet operation, the entire operation was repackaged under the new name of 'Glisten'.

Relevant news and research

For recent news items and research on this topic, click here. ( Last updated October 2021)


i This example is extracted from: Harper TA and Martin JE. Under the radar: how the tobacco industry targets youth in Australia. Drug and Alcohol Review 2002;21(4):387–92.


1. VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control Cancer Council Victoria. Submission to the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing review of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992. Melbourne: Cancer Council Australia, 2003.

2. Cancer Council NSW. Companies target music festivals. Cancer Council NSW TAGlines, Sydney 2007:January/February. Available from: http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/editorial.asp?pageid=2209#3

3. Byrnes H and McIlveen L. Fashion's smoke signal. Daily Telegraph Sydney 2007:28 April.