11.7 Promotional events

Last updated: April 2023
Suggested citation:
Hanley-Jones, S., Freeman, B. 11.7 Promotional events. In Greenhalgh, EM, Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2023. Available from: https://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-11-advertising/11-7-promotion-events


In its submission to the 2003 Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (TAP Act) review, the Cancer Council Australia highlighted how the tobacco industry has used 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 past event-based marketing across Australia. An illustrative example of historical interest, Wavesnet, is highlighted in the case study below.i

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 mirrors and cosmetic bags sold with Alpine packs. Part of the aim was to develop a database of Alpine smokers, which apparently numbered around 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’. 

Despite state-level attempts to control these activities event-based marketing has persisted, as tobacco companies continue to exploit opportunities within legislative gaps and loopholes. An example of the tobacco industry’s fast evolving and indirect promotion strategy is illustrated below in the case study on Formula 1. 

Formula 1 (F1): a case study of sports event sponsorship and indirect advertising

Motor racing, particularly Formula 1 (F1) has been one of the most enduring and successful forms of indirect advertising for tobacco companies.2 Sponsorship of Formula One motor racing was prohibited by the 2005 European Union Tobacco Advertising Directive, and as of October 2006 sponsorship exemptions to events that were of international importance in Australia’s Tobacco Advertising and Prohibition Act 1992, including Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, was revoked, see Section 11.3. Despite this, British American Tobacco (BAT) partnered with Formula 1 team McLaren and Philip Morris International (PMI) with Ferrari leading up to the 2019 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix. Cars, helmets, and driver outfits displayed 'Mission Winnow' and 'A Better Tomorrow' branding, promoting the tobacco companies' new-generation products. Critics argued that colours and designs closely resembled the companies' cigarette branding. PMI’s branding, in particular, closely resembled the Marlboro brand logo, featuring a white chevron on a red background.3

The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages governments to enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship at all sporting events, including broadcasts,4 in accordance with Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).5 The WHO also advised sporting bodies to adopt strong tobacco-free policies, ensuring events, activities, and participants remain unsponsored by tobacco companies.4 After intense media interest and representation from health groups, in mid-2019, ahead of the Phillip Island Motor Cycle Grand Prix, the Victorian Government addressed a legislative loophole that had enabled multinational tobacco companies to promote themselves and market new tobacco products at the Formula I Grand Prix earlier in the same year. The Health Legislation and Amendment Repeal Bill 2019 (Vic), introduced to Parliament on 28 August 2019, contained amendments to the Tobacco Act 1987 (Vic).6

Despite the Victorian state government tightening restrictions, the tobacco industry went on to spend over $100 million on F1 sponsorship in the 2020 season, and the same again in 2021.7 As many countries have yet to close similar loopholes allowing indirect promotion, and races continue to be broadcast on television and online internationally, this form of promotion can easily cross borders.8 The Formula One Group reported a rapidly growing global TV audience of 445 million unique viewers in 2021, with an average of 70.3 million people tuned in to every race.7 Moreover, in 2019, the tobacco industry gained a new avenue for promoting its brands and products: F1’s partnership with Netflix and its hit series, ‘ Formula 1: Drive to Survive’, available to stream on Australian Netflix. Both Ferrari’s sponsor, PMI, and McLaren’s sponsor, BAT, have been heavily featured in the series, with extended plotlines following the teams’ drivers. In 2023, STOP: A Global Tobacco Industry Watchdog, released a report9 arguing that the docuseries is introducing a new fan base to the sport, specifically young people and women. In light of these challenges, researchers argue that it is crucial for tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS) regulations to evolve with the rapidly changing media landscape and that international cooperation be strengthened to effectively enforce TAPS bans across borders.8      

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.              

Relevant news and research

For recent news items and research on this topic, click  here. ( Last updated May 2024)  


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. Grant-Braham B and Britton J. Motor racing, tobacco company sponsorship, barcodes and alibi marketing. Tobacco Control, 2012; 21(6):529-35. Available from: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/21/6/529.full.pdf

3. No authors listed. No smoke without fire: Tobacco companies in quiet return to Formula One Bangkok Post, 2019. Available from: https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/world/1630466/no-smoke-without-fire-tobacco-companies-in-quiet-return-to-formula-one

4. No authors listed. WHO calls for governments to ban tobacco promotion at motor sports. Australian Medical Association, 2019. Available from: https://ama.com.au/ausmed/who-calls-governments-ban-tobacco-promotion-motor-sports

5. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Guidelines for implementation of article 13 (tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship). Geneva: World Health Organization, 2013. Available from: https://fctc.who.int/publications/m/item/tobacco-advertising-promotion-and-sponsorship.

6. Hall B. Vaping ads ban rushed through ahead of Phillip Island Grand Prix. The Age, 2019. Available from: https://www.theage.com.au/national/vaping-ads-ban-rushed-through-ahead-of-phillip-island-grand-prix-20191018-p531vf.html

7. No author listed. Motorsport sponsorship. Tobacco Tactics, 2023. Available from: https://tobaccotactics.org/wiki/motorsport-sponsorship/

8. Freeman B, Watts C, and Astuti PAS. Global tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship regulation: What's old, what's new and where to next? Tobacco Control, 2022; 31(2):216-21. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/35241591

9. STOP. Driving addiction: F1, Netflix and cigarette company advertising. A Global Tobacco Industry Watchdog,  2023. Available from: https://exposetobacco.org/wp-content/uploads/F1-Netflix-Driving-Addiction.pdf.