Are Ferrari subliminally advertising cigarettes?
Experts call for inquiry into unexplained barcode symbol that could be advertising Marlboro
Possible 'subliminal' tobacco advertising on Ferrari's Formula 1 cars and a $1 billion relationship with the maker of Marlboro cigarettes has provoked leading doctors to demand an immediate government inquiry.
The furore is over a red, white and black barcode emblazoned on Ferrari's cars as well as its drivers' overalls. It is claimed that the barcode is designed to remind viewers of Marlboro cigarettes, specifically the bottom of their packets, which bear a similar design. EU legislation states that it is an offence for a tobacco company to sponsor sporting events.
A spokesman for the European Public Health Commissioner yesterday said that he thought the symbol constituted potential subliminal marketing and that governments involved should investigate whether Phillip Morris, the company that owns Marlboro, is in breach of the law.
Phillip Morris has been involved with F1 for over 40 years. Their Gold Leaf brand sponsorship of the Lotus team in 1968 was one of the first instances of tobacco advertising in the sport. They were also the last tobacco company to withdraw their advertising from cars, running with prominent signage as late as 2007. When that was forced off the cars it was replaced by the controversial barcode-like design.
John Britton, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and director of its tobacco advisory group, said to the Times: "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 barcode 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 barcode? What is their explanation"?
Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary between 1997 and 1999, has backed requests for an inquiry and said that he believes firms were working out how to advertise despite the ban years ago.
The BBC, which doesn't allow advertising of any kind, let alone tobacco advertising, currently broadcasts Formula 1. A spokesman said: "We are confident that Formula 1, and as a result our coverage of Formula 1, is fully compliant with regulations."
A Ferarri spokesman said: "The barcode is part of the livery of the car. It is not part of a subliminal advertising campaign."
Ferrari, or Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro to give it its formal name, is the only Formula One team to include the name of a tobacco company in its title. ·
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