Ferrari has found itself at the center of controversy once again as pundits have accused the Scuderia of subliminal advertising of tobacco products through its longstanding partnership with Philip Morris International, producer of Marlboro cigarettes.
Historically, tobacco advertising has been commonplace in motorsports, F1 in particular. Imperial Tobacco's Gold Leaf brand started off sponsoring the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix, leading a trend that would see tobacco companies sponsoring teams and races for decades to come. British American Tobacco went so far as to field its own cars – the British American Racing team that later became Honda, then Brawn GP and now races under the Mercedes GP banner. For several years, Marlboro (like Santander today) sponsored both McLaren and Ferrari, before concentrating its efforts on the Scuderia. By the late 1990s, however, European countries in particular began outlawing tobacco advertising in sports, leading to the withdrawal (no pun intended) of most major tobacco companies from Formula One. Williams became the first major team to run without cigarette branding in 2000, and since then all the major tobacco companies have pulled out of the sport, with the notable exception of Philip Morris.
Like other teams had initially, Ferrari continues to run livery on its F1 cars that – in compliance with European regulations – doesn't explicitly include the name of its sponsor. The brand continues, however, to be part of the team's name (known officially as Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro in a deal reportedly worth $1 billion), and over the years the Marlboro logo has grown increasingly abstract on the livery to the point that today it's little more than a red, white and black bar-code. Although the team had, until a couple of years ago, run with the Marlboro name on the cars in overseas races where regulations permitted tobacco advertising, since 2008 Ferrari has run only with the bar-code logo.
British pundits, however, say the abstraction is not enough, pointing to the bar-code and even the team's use of the color red as subliminal advertising of the team's title sponsor. Ferrari has released a statement refuting the charges, saying the bar-code logo has not been scientifically proven to be subliminal advertising, and that the red livery has been integral to the team since its inception and the dawn of motorsports. Follow the jump for Ferrari's argument and judge for yourself.
Maranello, 29 April – Today and in recent weeks, articles have been published relating to the partnership contract between Scuderia Ferrari and Philip Morris International, questioning its legality. These reports are based on two suppositions: that part of the graphics featured on the Formula 1 cars are reminiscent of the Marlboro logo and even that the red colour which is a traditional feature of our cars is a form of tobacco publicity.
Neither of these arguments have any scientific basis, as they rely on some alleged studies which have never been published in academic journals. But more importantly, they do not correspond to the truth. The so called barcode is an integral part of the livery of the car and of all images coordinated by the Scuderia, as can be seen from the fact it is modified every year and, occasionally even during the season. Furthermore, if it was a case of advertising branding, Philip Morris would have to own a legal copyright on it.
The partnership between Ferrari and Philip Morris is now only exploited in certain initiatives, such as factory visits, meetings with the drivers, merchandising products, all carried out fully within the laws of the various countries where these activities take place. There has been no logo or branding on the race cars since 2008, even in countries where local laws would still have permitted it.
The premise that simply looking at a red Ferrari can be a more effective means of publicity than a cigarette advertisement seems incredible: how should one assess the choice made by other Formula 1 teams to race a car with a predominantly red livery or to link the image of a driver to a sports car of the same colour? Maybe these companies also want to advertise smoking! It should be pointed out that red has been the recognised colour for Italian racing cars since the very beginning of motor sport, at the start of the twentieth century: if there is an immediate association to be made, it is with our company rather than with our partner.