What’s that on the Ferrari? A cigarette box? Well, I could use a …

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The red, white and black bar code design of Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars and its drivers overalls are designed to subliminally remind people of Marlboro packs, a group of British doctors are claiming.

The Times of London is reporting this shocking news. Shocking, I say, because I’d always assumed the bar code was designed to annoy fans, not to try to get us to light up a [insert your regional cigarette euphemism here*].

Here’s more from the Times story:

Leading doctors are demanding an immediate government inquiry into “subliminal” tobacco advertising on Ferrari’s Formula One cars, and the company’s $1 billion relationship with the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, The Times has learnt.

[snip]

Yesterday a spokesman for the European Public Health Commissioner said he thought that Marlboro’s approach constituted potential subliminal marketing. He urged the Spanish and British governments to ascertain whether the world’s second-biggest tobacco company might be in breach of the law.

[snip]

Don Elgie, chief executive of Creston, which owns the advertising agency DLKW, said he thought that the bar code was subliminal advertising — where a brand is so recognisable that consumers can be reminded of a product without actually seeing it.

John Britton, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and director of its tobacco advisory group, said: “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.”

Gerard Hastings, director of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research, said: “I think this is advertising. Why a bar code? What is their explanation?”

[snip]

In September 2005 Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro, extended its financial backing for the Ferrari team until 2011, despite the ban on cigarette branding on cars racing in the European Union. The contract is understood to be worth $1 billion over ten years and Philip Morris said Ferraris would not carry Marlboro branding where there was a ban.

A spokesman for the Italian car maker said: “The bar code is part of the livery of the car, it is not part of a subliminal advertising campaign.”

Asked about the Philip Morris contract he said: “$100 million [a year] is not a correct figure. We do not disclose the figure — the figure you mention, it is lower.”

Ferrari is the only Formula One team with a tobacco brand in its formal title, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Its logo also has the bar code and its drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, wear overalls bearing the bar code next to the Ferrari logo on each arm.

Philip Morris said: “We are confident that our relationship with Ferrari does not violate the UK 2002 Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act. The Formula One Grand Prix in the UK does not involve any race cars, team apparel, equipment or track signage carrying tobacco product branding. The same is true for all other Formula One races across the world.”

The Times story has a nice clear picture of Fernando Alonso’s back, so I can guess everyone can decide what they think. And, to put myself out for ridicule, especially by the president and CEO of F1B, I kinda see it… now that I’ve been told to look for it.

Of course, I’m easily led and manipulated. Sort of like Luca D.

But, we all already knew the bar code was the ad for Marlboro, right? So I can say I’m not sure how this is a big deal, although I suppose there’s some argument about the subliminal design, which then actually shows the product? And, yes, I’m writing this all as a question? Because I’m totally not sure on this one?**

Anyone out there have insight into the EU ban on tobacco ads? And does anyone agree that this is a case of “creeping branding”?

I think for me the bottom-line is: If there’s no tobacco ads, how is it that Ferrari is Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and how is the bar code allowed in the first place?

* Where I am, I’d probably go with the simple “smoke.” And, honestly, I’m more than happy to hear PG versions from our many worldwide readers.
** I in zero ways mean to delegitimize the dangers of cigarette smoking or to minimize the decades of corporate do-badery inflicted upon the world by tobacco companies. (Whoops, there goes one sponsor possibility.) I’m just skeptical it is worth a big inquiry. If I’m wrong, I’ll man up and admit it, though.

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