After months of controversy, Ferrari finally capitulated and removed the suspiciously placed barcode from its Scuderia Marlboro Formula 1 cars in Europe.
As most F1 fans know, Marlboro has been the Ferrari F1 racing team’s major sponsor for more than a decade, but due to the F1 ban on tobacco sponsorships, the global cigarette marketer hasn’t been able to emblazon its brand logo on the cars, driver and pit crew uniforms, programs and promotions, despite paying millions of dollars to underwrite the team. Seemingly abiding by the law, the Marlboro name and logo did not appear anywhere. However, lately in the prominent places where the lead sponsor’s name would normally go, there appeared a curious red, black and white barcode design – which “coincidentally” are Marlboro’s brand colors. Even more remarkable was the fact that when the Ferrari F1 car flew around the course at 200 mph, viewers saw a blur that created the sensation of actually seeing the Marlboro logo.
Doctors and anti-smoking groups in the UK and Europe were incensed and called for their governments to investigate Ferrari/Marlboro for employing subliminal advertising in violation of the cigarette ad ban.
Ferrari fought back, issuing a statement on its website claiming that the color scheme had nothing to do with the cigarette maker. “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….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!”
That statement didn’t quell the outcry. Last week Ferrari caved and announced that it would remove the offending barcode from its cars. If it is any consolation to Marlboro, it proves the effectiveness of its brand colors.