Health industry groups are demanding an investigation into what they perceive is ‘subliminal’ Marlboro tobacco advertising from the Ferrari team.

Marlboro Barcoding With tobacco advertising banned in Formula 1 since mid-2005, Ferrari’s title sponsorship has been primarily bankrolled by Marlboro’s parent company Phillip Morris with an association dating back to the 1980s. Since the inception of the tobacco advertising ban, Ferrari has run barcode logos (pictured left)on its cars and driver overalls in place of a direct Marlboro association. The team’s official race entry is still ‘Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro’.

It was well-known that Marlboro held a near-exclusive sponsorship arrangement with the Maranello squad – said to be worth about $100M per year – in the five years succeeding the advertising ban, and all other sponsor logos were not displayed. Until this season, that policy has changed with the addition of the Santander sponsorship on the cars’ rear wing.

The Times has reported that an enquiry is likely to commence regarding said barcode logos, and leading doctors look set to argue that the barcode logos are a form of subliminal advertising.

Ferrari’s counter-argument will centre around the perception of what constitutes an advert, as the logos in question contain no direct Marlboro association in terms of text. The technique of alternative branding has been used at all venues in Europe where tobacco advertising was banned prior to the worldwide advertising ban.

McLaren Non-Tobacco Livery Jordan Be On Edge

Under West sponsorship, McLaren opted to substitute their logos with the drivers’ first names (above left) or through the use of the alternative ‘East’ nametag instead. Jordan’s Benson & Hedges logos were replaced with the idioms of ‘Buzzin’ Hornets’ or ‘Be On Edge’ (above right) during their sponsorship association.

A spokesperson for the European Public Health Commissioner has likened the Ferrari-Marlboro campaign as “potential subliminal marketing”, and is urging the Spanish and British governments to establish if Phillip Morris is acting illegally.

John Britton, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Director of the tobacco advisory group, claimed: "The bar code looks like the bottom half of a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. I was stunned when I saw it. This is pushing at the limits. If you look at how the bar code has evolved over the last four years, it looks like creeping branding.”

Well, duh! How come it’s taken these groups four years to object to this advertising standpoint?

Ferrari has been quick to refute these claims, and issued a statement to the effect: "The bar code is part of the livery of the car, it is not part of a subliminal advertising campaign. $100M is not a correct figure; we are not disclosing the figure but it is lower than the figure you mention."

Expect a war on this one!

[Original images via The Cahier Archive and Flickr]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.