Ferrari's Subliminal Cigarette AdsS

Does the barcode on this Ferrari F10 make you want to pick up a pack of Marlboros? According to English doctors, it's designed to do just that. They claim the Ferrari F1 livery violates a tobacco sponsorship ban.

Sponsorship of Formula Teams by tobacco companies is subject to a de facto ban due to laws which ban tobacco sponsorship of televised sporting events. F1 traditionally has a strong link with tobacco advertising and has a history of blatantly flouting the ban with altered logos. Jordan, which was sponsored by Benson & Hedges, famously changed its livery to read "Bitten & Hisses" during certain races in 1997 to get around the rules. Despite the ban, Marlboro reportedly has a 10-year, $1 billion sponsorship deal with Ferrari that runs through 2011 and includes altering the team's official name to "Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro."

Due to the no-tobacco-ad rules, Marlboro's logo doesn't appear on any of the Ferrari team's race cars, apparel, equipment or on track billboards. The problem is, this funky barcode does and, according to British doctors, it violates the ban with a subliminal pro-smoking message.

Ferrari's Subliminal Cigarette AdsS

Ferrari's old Marlboro livery.

According to The Times, "Subliminal advertising is where a brand is so well-known and powerful that a consumer can be reminded of it by subtle prompts, but without actually seeing the product itself." In this case, the barcode and the red, white and black colors are supposedly meant to remind viewers of the bottom of a Marlboro cigarette package. The barcode appears prominently on the Ferrari F1 cars and on their drivers' uniforms. As such, it receives a huge amount of air time during races, landing on-screen every time a Ferrari car or driver does.

Ferrari's Subliminal Cigarette AdsS

Now, prominent English physician John Britton has written to the British Department of Health and the BBC (which airs the incredibly popular F1 races) to question the legality of showing the races in England while the barcode remains. Dr. Britton stated, " 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."

As a result, Members of Parliament are calling for a public inquiry into the logos, suggesting that televised coverage of F1 could be banned in the United Kingdom until they're removed.

Both Ferrari and Marlboro deny the claims. Ferrari President Luca di Montezemelo issued this statement yesterday:

Frankly, I find this argument completely pointless and it is verging on the ridiculous to claim that the colour red or a graphic design which shows a bar code could induce people to smoke. At a time when, on the other side of the Atlantic they are fighting to provide a more equal health service, in the old continent of Europe, so called experts are racking their brains to come up with theories that have no scientific basis: I think there are more important matters to think about than a bar code. Therefore, it's best not to waste any more time replying to this sort of nonsense or to those who are instrumental in wanting to stoke up the story.

But, as Britton and others point out, Ferrari is unable to provide a tangible explanation for the bar code's inclusion in its livery. The director of the UK's Center for Tobacco Control Research asks, "I think this is advertising. Why a bar code? What is their explanation?"

Sources: Ferrari, The Times, Autocar, Wikipedia