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292. The. Sneakiest. Design. Ever.

Man, I have never gone this long without posting something. Yes, there's been a lot going on and since I'm now freelancing and back living in the western hemisphere, my schedule is all out of whack. But I'm ready to get back to my normal blog schedule and writing about what's been going on in advertising and design. I will say this though - lately, I've been pretty bored with everything that I've been seeing. Anyone else feel this way?

But this caught my attention and is anything but boring.

Imagine yourself as a major sponsor of the biggest and most successful Formula One racing team. Your identity and brand is intertwined with the race team and to some extent Formula One itself. You are in negotiations to financially sponsor this race team for the next five years and are willing to pay about $1 billion to do so. Unfortunately for you, the European Union is set to pass a ban on cigarette advertising and your company manufactures and globally markets cigarettes.

The law goes something like this: The Tobacco Advertising Directive: Passed by the European Parliament and Council in 2003 (see:IP/02/1788), the Directive bans tobacco advertising in the print media, on radio and over the internet. It also prohibits tobacco sponsorship of cross-border cultural and sporting events. The best I can tell is that this went into effect in 2005. Right around the same time as your contract negotiations.

Obviously, Formula One qualifies as a cross-border cultural and sporting event, but you go forward with your sponsorship anyway. And you state that the race team's Ferraris would simply not carry your brand's logo where there was this ban in place. Got all that?

This is exactly what has been happening with Marlboro. They've spent a ton of money to sponsor Ferrari's Formula One team without being able to brand the cars under this sponsorship. Basically, the Ferrari's appear to have no major sponsorship when raced in the EU. End of story? Not exactly.

In January, Ferrari presented the new Scuderia Marlboro F1 single-seater. (Ferrari is the only Formula One team with a tobacco brand in its formal title, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro.) At first glance the car is void of major sponsorship per the rules and has gone relatively unnoticed over the last four months. Now, however, 4 races into the year, the EU portion of the Formula One season is about to begin in Spain and the car's livery is in the spotlight due to the team's unique solution to the ban on advertsing.

The 2010 Ferrari Scuderia (Marlboro) F1, innocent top view:

The livery (paint job) features a predominately red car with a number of associate sponsor logos; Shell Gasoline, Ferrari itself, Bridgestone and a few others. The most striking aspect of this design and the subject of this article is a red, black and white barcode-like design on the canopy of the vehicle, as well as on the uniforms of drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipa Massa. Up close it just looks like a cool aesthetic touch but from a distance (and possibly even more clearly when moving 200 mph) it appears to resemble the packaging of a certain cigarette manufacturer. Can you guess which one?

The 2010 Ferrari Scuderia (Marlboro) F1, side view:

Another Larger View (click for expanded version):

The EU authorities are not amused. According to the Times (UK), "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." Now, I think they may have their terms incorrect. I don't think it's technically a subliminal thing at all. It's more like an optical illusion, but it's hard to deny the intent of the manufacturue and racing team to skirt the law for the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix and for this summer's British Grand Prix.

The Barcode Design on Team Firesuits and Uniforms:

This quote comes from the Times as well: 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..." But true to form, Marlboro is denying these claims. 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 Ferrari Scuderia (Marlboro) F1 Team Logo Featuring Barcode:

Let me say two things. First, this is the most insanely creative design solution that I've seen in a long, long time. It's nothing short of genius. Second, it further demonstrates how desperate tobacco companies are to market their product in an increasingly legislated environment. This ingenius design only underscores what we think about these companies and although I love the design approach and problem solving, it's easy to see the intent here was to find a loophole in the law. In other words: to be sneaky. And this has been something in the works over time. Check out the 2006 car below, followed by 2007 and then compare that to this year's car. It's as if Marlboro has been trying to use  a more innocent barcode design early on and then tweak it over time so there would be a precedent for the barcode as an team logo—even if it began to resemble the Marlboro packaging. Have I said the word genius yet? Or do I mean evil?

The Pre-Legislation Ferrari Marlboro Livery, circa 2005:

The Early Barcode Ferrari Marlboro Livery, circa 2007:

Detail shot of the 2010 Barcode Design:

It will be intersting to see how this little drama develops. Obviously this involves a lot of money, large corporations, even larger government entities and a deadline of a few days. And best of all maybe, it involves design and what does and does not constitute a brand's logo. Stay tuned. I promise to update this as soon as I get more information. See a little exploration / comparison of the barcode design and Marlboro combination mark. It's amazing how far away the two pieces are yet so close.

The Barcode on TV during the Australian GP:

A Visual Comparison of the Barcode (roughly comped) and the Marlboro Logo:


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References (3)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
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    Response: MarllIIlIIlIIlro
    About The. Sneakiest. Design. Ever. at Graphicology. Indeed....
  • Response
    Eurotopia has placed a ban on tobacco companies sponsoring or advertising in any sports related event. But some companies have figured out a clever way to work around the ban using clever graphic design. (After the break) I find smoking...
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    Response: .txt/100515
    Recently starred in Google Reader: Ali Fard contributes a guest post on submarine communication cables and connectivity and data centres in Africa to InfraNet Lab. Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg are the subject of an Infosthetics interview

Reader Comments (49)

Haha nice article. Necessity really is the mother of invention. I for one think it's damn celver.
May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
Teams used to do this all the time.

The jordan team did this for Benson & Hedges, removed a few letters to become 'be on edge'

Be on edge -

Benson & Hedges -

Very Very sneaky :P
May 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMitch McLeod
Same for the cigarette manufacturer "West" which was using the expression "East" on the Zakspeed Team car.
May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLuc
I really enjoyed reading your well written article but the subject matter is complete tosh. And for those of you reading this who are not English, that is not good.

This is a classic example of the ramifications of positioning. Companies try everything within their power to control their 'position', even if it means crossing boundaries and manipulating or deceiving consumers.

It is also reminiscent of the mass economy and the belief that consumers are really going to subconsiously adopt the Marlboro brand as a result of this mind knumbingly pointless and extremely expensive exercise in futile manipulation.
May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Osborne
nice article. the barcode always made me think.
May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTocki
Everybody who follows F1 a bit, knows this. Marlboro's been the principle sponsor for Ferrari for quite a while now, and the placing, colors and format of the bar code is a further continuation as you show in the pictures.

Another example of a creative way to advertise tobacco when it's not allowed was by West and the Zakspeed team:
with WEST logo:
and EAST:
May 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterderekb
Made me think of Dunhill, actually. Fail.
May 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert
Perhaps you are to young. Thats is the reason for you not to recall the same use of the bar code in the McLaren cars during part of the 80's and the 90's. At that time the ban on cigarrettes advertisements was present only in Germany and the UK. But, as a kid, I could still see the intended message in the bars. It was just to obvious. See the photo which clearly shows the car with both "decorations"

May 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrancho
Francho - No I remember some of the earlier barcode designs, which were totally fine. It's just I think they saw potential here to circumvent the law(s) and went for it, a step too far as it were.

Marcus - I don't think they believe that someone will smoke just because of the placement, or be more brand loyal b/c of the positioning, I just think they paid a billion dollars to sponsor a team that they want credit for, and yes eyeballs on their logo; which does provide a platform for communicating their brand's message - albeit somewhat sneaky and typical for a cigarette manufacturer. I actually think if they are legal and taxed, they should be able to be advertised, but that's just me and I've never been a smoker.

Luc - thanks for the East / West info - had not seen that before.

Mitch - Don't you think the Benson & Hedges is somehow less sinister? Maybe it's b/c it's only text and feel a little more obvious and therefore less evil. I don't know. But thanks for the info, really appreciate the comment.
May 8, 2010 | Registered Commenterjj

err.. I mean, evil. Pure evil.
May 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMats
Maybe they have reached their goal: everybody talking about Marlboro.
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHegedus
Awesome take. Really clever and evil! hahah :)
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBreno Bitencourt
The barcodes ALWAYS were suppose to remember Marlboro.It is quite ridiculous that people discovered it just now.
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGerhard Schlee
That is very very clever. & on the surface, it's not like they've done anything wrong. It's a matter of perspective, isn't it... ;)
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScarlett
If not illegal it sure is clever. Creativity can sure go a long way in advertising...heck Marlboro will probably get more exposure from this scandal than from the actual car!
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClayton Shumway
For those of you who mentioned the West/East branding, I'm surprised no-one has mentioned a further twist on this brand.

At races where cigarette advertising was banned outright, i.e. the UK and Germany, McLaren Mercedes F1 team had their driver's names in place of the West font; using the same font type and the same black/red background stripe, Mika Hakkinen simply had "Mika" on his car, whilst David Coulthard had "David" - I've also noticed this practice around the same time in various other race series around the globe.
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMattWM
It's been in MotoGP for years. Check Gauloises (GO!!!!!!!), West (riders' names), Malboro (barcode) bikes from past. L&M used a spot in place of their logo in WSBK.
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterearlofhayden
You must be kidding me! I'm a racing fan of both MotoGP and F1 and watch every race. Also, my wife smokes and often smokes Marlboros. When Ducati and Ferrari changed their livery I had no clue what the barcode meant. I thought maybe it had to do with Muba Dala, or maybe Santander or maybe Alice', I had no idea it was related to Marlboro. I can't see how anyone WHO DIDN'T ALREADY KNOW would be influenced by this graphic to associate it with Marlboro cigarettes. Now that it's just a red box with a white border around it, are you going to complain about that too?
May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLance
I have to say that I really don't think this is as genius as many of you seem to think. It is not even something new. They've been using the barcode instead of the name for years, even before the EU ban came in countries where tobacco & alcohol advertising was banned. So anyone who has followed F1 in any way automatically will think of it as Marlboro.
On the flipside, if you'd never seen a race before i doubt you would make the connection!

Also, I have to agree with MattWM, how did every racing-fan commenting this article miss the Mika/David/Kimi on the West McLaren cars ?? :O That is more creative than the barcode if anything!! :D

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauhakari [mikko]
Or the most obvious of them all, the branding of the BAR team that replaced Lucky Strike with Look Alike in the exact same font and colours?
May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiviu

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