Advertisements are persuasive texts designed to communicate ideas explicitly and implicitly through visual grammar. Counter-advertisements allow students to engage with advertising texts as creators rather than consumers and challenge media messages. Based in critical media literacy theory, this paper explores how elementary students interpret and redesign advertisements to create meaning. This study focused on the messages upper-elementary school students created about alcohol following a 10-lesson alcohol media literacy programme. Text from the counter-advertisements (n = 161) was analysed using discourse analysis. The counter-advertisements were also content analysed for message content, persuasion strategies and production components using a media literacy framework. The content of male-targeted, female-targeted and gender-neutral ads was compared using chi-square analyses. The four main themes identified in the discourse and content analysis were 'vomit', 'sick', 'danger' and 'poison', highlighting an emphasis on short-term consequences of alcohol misuse. Sensory (un)appeal was the most frequently used persuasion strategy, while objects/symbols and colour were the most frequently used production components. The use of these devices differed depending upon the advertisement's target gender. Involving elementary students in the redesign of advertisements is a powerful pedagogy that enables students to demonstrate their understanding of media literacy practices and create health promotion messages.