Ferrari Drops Wickedly Sneaky Cigarette Advertising From Its Race Cars

Still, you’ve got to admire the wicked branding genius that inspired the now defunct design.



That Ferrari F1 car you see above doesn’t look like dinosaur, but it is: Though the team has be sponsored by Marlboro for years, the EU has banned cigarette ads on F1 cars in 2007.

But that didn’t stop some evil-genius brand designers from trying to sneak cigarette ads onto the cars–in the form of an abstracted bar code that subtly name-checked the bar codes on cigarette packs, and the Marlboro packet at the same time:

marlboro ferrari


Still don’t see it? Graphicology produces the smoking gun:

marlboro ferrari

Alas, no more: Bowing to pressure, Ferrari has now nixed the barcode design.


The pressure, in this case, came from numerous anti-smoking groups in the EU, who blasted Ferrari for its subliminal advertising. As the Times of London reported:

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 recognizable 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.”

The Times dutifully trotted the design out to the man on the streets, and lo and behold, people picked up the subtle design cues. The interest came only now because though the F1 season is already four races in, the races are only set to arrive in Europe next month.

Luca di Montezmolo


Ferrari’s president, Luca di Montezmolo (who’s pictured above, in the suit), reacted with a mix of Italian panache and outrage

Frankly, I find this argument completely pointless and it is
verging on the ridiculous to claim that the color 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.

Deft. And also hilarious: If the bar code wasn’t meant to represent anything, what inspired its design? Ferrari, of course, had every incentive to find a clever work-around of the law. Marlboro’s deal with the F1 team comes in at $1 billion, and somewhere north of $100 million a year. Ferrari gets an “A+” for branding. And an “A+” for dastardly creativity.

The question for them is whether Marlboro will now decamp. That could be a crippling blow, since F1 teams cost over $400 million a year to field.


For more on design and F1, check out our previous coverage here and here.


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.


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