Can counter-advertising exposing alcohol sponsorship and harms influence sport spectators’ support for alcohol policies? An experimental study

Maree Scully, Helen Dixon, Emily Brennan, Jeff Niederdeppe, Kerry O’Brien, Simone Pettigrew, Brian Vandenberg, Melanie Wakefield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Exposure to alcohol advertising and sponsorship through elite sport is associated with harmful use of alcohol. Owing to strong financial and cultural ties between alcohol and sport in Australia, policy action to restrict alcohol sport sponsorship is unlikely to occur without strong public support for change. This study tested whether exposure to counter-advertising exposing industry marketing of harmful products—a technique shown to be effective in tobacco control—promotes higher support for policy change and less favourable beliefs about the alcohol industry among sport spectators. Methods: A sample of 1,075 Australian adults aged 18–49 years who planned to watch an National Rugby League (NRL) State of Origin series game, featuring prominent alcohol sponsorship, was recruited through an online panel and randomly assigned to one of three conditions: control (neutral advertisement); counter-advertisement exposing alcohol harms; counter-advertisement exposing alcohol sponsorship and harms. Participants completed a pre-test questionnaire and viewed their assigned counter-advertisement multiple times in the 5–7 days before the NRL game. Within four days of watching the game, participants completed post-test measures. Results: Compared to both the control advertisement and the counter-advertisement exposing alcohol harms, participants who viewed the counter-advertisement exposing alcohol sponsorship and harms were significantly more likely to indicate support for each of four policies aimed at restricting sports-related alcohol marketing, including the complete removal of alcohol sponsorship from sport (51% vs. 32% and 37%). They were also significantly less likely to agree with statements such as “alcohol companies should be allowed to sponsor sport since their products are legal” (39% vs. 63% and 60%) and significantly less likely to report liking alcohol companies in general (38% vs. 59% and 54%). There were no significant differences in policy support or industry beliefs between participants who saw the counter-advertisement exposing alcohol harms and those who saw the control advertisement. Conclusion: Counter-advertising employing messages that expose and critique the intent and impact of pervasive alcohol sponsorship in sport has potential to bolster public support for policies targeting alcohol sport sponsorship, diminish beliefs supportive of alcohol industry marketing strategies and enhance negative views of alcohol companies and their marketing practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number396
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Alcohol
  • Industry denormalisation
  • Intervention study
  • Policy support
  • Sport sponsorship

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