Open Access Research article

Children and youth perceive smoking messages in an unbranded advertisement from a NIKE marketing campaign: a cluster randomised controlled trial

Nathalie Auger123*, Mark Daniel234, Bärbel Knäuper5, Marie-France Raynault236 and Barry Pless7

Author Affiliations

1 Institut national de santé publique du Québec, 190, boulevard Crémazie Est, Montréal, Québec H2P 1E2, Canada

2 Research Centre of the University of Montréal Hospital Centre, 3850, rue Saint-Urbain, Montréal, Québec H2W 1T7, Canada

3 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Montréal, PO Box 6128, succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada

4 School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia

5 Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205 Dr. Penfield Avenue, Montréal, Québec H3A 1B1, Canada

6 Montréal Public Health Department, Régie régionale de Montréal-Centre, 1301, rue Sherbrooke Est, Montréal, Québec H2L 1M3, Canada

7 Departments of Pediatrics, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McGill University, 2155 Guy Street, 5th Floor, Montréal, Québec H3H 2R9, Canada

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BMC Pediatrics 2011, 11:26  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-11-26

Published: 8 April 2011



How youth perceive marketing messages in sports is poorly understood. We evaluated whether youth perceive that the imagery of a specific sports marketing advertisement contained smoking-related messages.


Twenty grade 7 to 11 classes (397 students) from two high schools in Montréal, Canada were recruited to participate in a cluster randomised single-blind controlled trial. Classes were randomly allocated to either a NIKE advertisement containing the phrase 'LIGHT IT UP' (n = 205) or to a neutral advertisement with smoking imagery reduced and the phrase replaced by 'GO FOR IT' (n = 192). The NIKE logo was removed from both advertisements. Students responded in class to a questionnaire asking open-ended questions about their perception of the messages in the ad. Reports relating to the appearance and text of the ad, and the product being promoted were evaluated.


Relative to the neutral ad, more students reported that the phrase 'LIGHT IT UP' was smoking-related (37.6% vs. 0.5%) and that other parts of the ad resembled smoking-related products (50.7% vs. 10.4%). The relative risk of students reporting that the NIKE ad promoted cigarettes was 4.41 (95% confidence interval: 2.64-7.36; P < 0.001).


The unbranded imagery of an advertisement in a specific campaign aimed at promoting NIKE hockey products appears to have contained smoking-related messages. This particular marketing campaign may have promoted smoking. This suggests that the regulation of marketing to youth may need to be more tightly controlled.