Barcodegate: Ferrari Retains Marlboro Advertising

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/09/2010 03:30:00 PM
Being a liberal in the classic sense, I've always thought it overstepped the mark when Formula One decided to ban tobacco advertising in its entirety after the 2006 season. It's not as if I came into close and regular contact with second hand smoke (which is indeed harmful) watching TV. As a non-smoker, it did not harm me any watching cars painted in the livery of tobacco brands. If people want to smoke away from those who do, it does not bother me at all. However, the industry's critics have had two longstanding objections. First, association with F1 glamorizes smoking. Second, impressionable youth may be particularly susceptible to ad pitches of this sort. To both I retort that it is highly unlikely that those in their teen years or beyond are unaware that none of the current drivers are habitual smokers. Super-fit F1 drivers lighting up a pack or two daily? You must be joking.

So, I was quite amused when a brouhaha erupted recently over Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro and its alleged use of barcodes to represent the now-missing Marlboro advertising. Unlike Mild Seven which left the sport (and then-world champion Renault) after 2006, Marlboro remains very much involved with Ferrari. Having just watched the Barcelona Grand Prix, the Ferrari team has indeed replaced the controversial barcodes with just a simple box outline. A few days ago, they justified their change thusly to placate their nannying critics:
Together with Philip Morris International we have decided to modify the livery of our cars starting with the Barcelona Grand Prix. This decision was taken in order to remove all speculation concerning the so-called “bar code” which was never intended to be a reference to a tobacco brand. By this we want to put an end to this ridiculous story and concentrate on more important things than on such groundless allegations [my emphasis].
Previous to that, Ferrari denied that the bar codes stood in for Marlboro advertising:
Neither of these arguments have any scientific basis, as they rely on some alleged studies which have never been published in academic journals. But more importantly, they do not correspond to the truth. The so called barcode is an integral part of the livery of the car and of all images coordinated by the Scuderia, as can be seen from the fact it is modified every year and, occasionally even during the season. Furthermore, if it was a case of advertising branding, Philip Morris would have to own a legal copyright on it.

The partnership between Ferrari and Philip Morris is now only exploited in certain initiatives, such as factory visits, meetings with the drivers, merchandising products, all carried out fully within the laws of the various countries where these activities take place. There has been no logo or branding on the race cars since 2008, even in countries where local laws would still have permitted it.
That's quite a spirited defence, Ferrari. But common sense suggests the following -
  1. Marlboro remains a title sponsor of the Ferrari F1 team despite tobacco advertising being banned from most countries where races are held;
  2. The barcodes appear on the racing cars and drivers' uniforms where Marlboro logos used to be;
  3. It makes no commercial sense to place these "coordinated" barcodes when they're space that could've been sold for literally tens of millions to sponsors had they no symbolic representation as Ferrari claims;
  4. You must be *&^%$£ gullible to believe Ferrari's argument that these barcodes were placed to enhance the car's aesthetic appeal as none of their other cars feature them.
Let's look at a few photos to sort this matter out quickly and definitively. First, here is the 2006 car or the last one prepared in traditional livery prior to the tobacco ad ban:

Yes, it was very much I Love You Philip Morris. And here is this year's car prior to barcodegate. The placement of the barcodes has been more or less consistent since the ban took effect:

Today's car has reduced the barcode thingamajig to just a box outline, but still. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what goes into the box:

And, of course, contrast the driving suit of Herr Schumacher in his Ferrari prime with that of Felipe Massa in more recent years. The same phenomenon holds on the back of their suits as well:

Those hellbent on a tobacco ban can certainly make the point that, ah, vapours of Marlboro advertising are still there. It's a corporate social responsibility (CSR) issue all the same regardless of the team's protestations as no other sponsor in any other sport goes to such lengths to do what Ferrari has for Philip Morris. It removed the barcodes from the car, but not from its drivers' outfits as far as I can tell from Barcelona. Until the Marlboro name is excised from the name of the team, I doubt whether critics will be satisfied with these half-hearted gestures.

Come to where the flavour is. Come to Scuderia Ferrari! (And cue the Magnificent Seven theme while you're at it.)