Friday, 21 May 2010

Subliminal Advertising

A few weeks ago a bit of a storm blew up around what appeared to be subliminal cigarette advertising on Ferrari's F1 car. It has been quite a few years now since cigarette advertising was common in mainstream sport. At one time almost every Formula 1 team had a sponsor from the tobacco industry; Williams were sponsored by Rothmans, McLaren by West, Jordan by Benson and Hedges and Ferrari by Marlboro to name just a few. In 2005 the Tobacco Advertising Directive took effect which banned, within the EU, almost all forms of tobacco advertising including that in F1. So using the Ferrari F1 team, and specifically the livery of the F1 car, to advertise cigarettes is clearly illegal so what is all the fuss about?
Well it turns out that while Ferrari can't legal advertise cigarettes they are still being paid a large amount in sponsorship by Phillip Morris the makers of Marlboro cigarettes -- the full name of the team is in fact Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. What has got some people up in arms is a barcode like logo displayed prominently on both the F1 car as well as the drivers overalls and helmets and large amounts of team merchandise. Some people claim that the barcode logo looks a lot like a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. I'll let you judge for yourself if you think this is true or not.

Given that for a number of years the barcode has been displayed in the same place on the car as the Marlboro logo used to be then I think that almost anyone with an interest in F1 could assume that it was related to the old tobacco advertising, but I doubt that anyone who saw the logo for the first time would suddenly have an overwhelming urge to smoke a cigarette. The fuss would probably have blown over if it hadn't been for a statement put out by Ferrari in which they apparently claimed that the barcode was part of the livery of the car and not part of any Phillip Morris advertising campaign. Given how much advertising space on an F1 car sells for, I find it hard to believe that the barcode isn't being paid for by a sponsor. Also if the barcode really was part of the Ferrari livery then I would assume that they would vigorously protect their copyright in the logo and so it would be highly unlikely to appear anywhere else. This clearly isn't the case as the same barcode also appears on Ducatti MotoGP bikes, which just happen to also be sponsored by Phillip Morris.

So regardless of what Ferrari may claim I think it is pretty clear that even if they didn't think the barcode was subliminal tobacco advertising Phillip Morris certainly knew what they were doing and when it came to the crunch Ferrari bowed to pressure and removed the barcode logo from their cars; although it still appears on the drivers uniforms and helmets. Now while I think it is an interesting story of a large multi-national company trying to skirt advertising regulations I don't think I'd have researched and written this post if it wasn't for the nine hours I spent queuing in Munich airport last week.

The queue I was in at Munich airport moved very very slowly and so for about two hours I was stood outside the duty free shop. Airport duty free shops are now the only place I regularly glimpse cigarette adverts and I don't usually pay them much attention but on this occasion one of them stood out as being more than a little interesting. Here was a clear tobacco advert that incorporated a barcode design which, while not the same as the one on seen recently on Ferrari F1 cars, was similar enough to catch my eye. I instantly assumed that Dunhill cigarettes were made by Phillip Morris based on nothing other than the barcode imagery so their "advertising" would seem to work, at least on me. Here was a story. No longer was the Ferrari barcode subliminal it was part of a tobacco advert! Unfortunately when I started to research this post I found that the Dunhill brand is actually owned by British American tobacco (BAT) -- damn! Now cigarette companies are nearly all partly owned by each other but no matter how hard I dug I couldn't actually find a clear connection between BAT and Phillip Morris and I almost gave up looking. I then found that while a brand may be owned by one company it is very common for a different company to make the cigarettes under license -- I assume this is to do with which companies have factories in which countries. A little more digging and I found a number of pages that make it clear that Phillip Morris make Dunhill cigarettes under license from BAT.

So we know that Phillip Morris sponsor both Ferrari and Ducatti and that both use a barcode logo as part of their racing livery. We also have evidence that Phillip Morris are responsible for the manufacture (and I assume advertising) of Dunhill cigarettes, an advert for which also uses a barcode like logo. I think it is now very clear that the barcode on the Ferrari was advertising tobacco in clear contravention of the 2005 tobacco Advertising Directive and I don't see how Ferrari could continue to claim otherwise.

An interesting story that in no way shape or form makes a nine hour queue at the airport any more bearable!
22 May 2010 at 21:46 , GB said...

Perhaps not for you in a queue but interesting to me nevertheless.

26 May 2010 at 08:27 , Scriptor Senex said...

I have to say that I've sometimes wondered about the barcode but it has never occurred to me that it was anything to do with cigarettes! Looks like it's a failure to me - as you say. I ain't going to rush out an buy Marlborough as a result of it.

Post a Comment