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Philip Morris International return to F1 sponsorship

Bryan Edwards

It's a very long time since Formula One (and many countries) banned tobacco advertising. For a decade, Ferrari have kept the red and white of their previous long-standing tobacco sponsor, Marlboro. Now Malboro's parent company are back, with a white logo, on the Ferraris and a book of Haiku poetry created from the wit and wisdom and sometimes grouchiness of Kimi Raikkonen just before he leaves the team. So what's going on?

The arrival of a new sponsor for Ferrari is big news. Even bigger is the news that a tobacco company is getting its name back into Formula One. Some would argue that it never truly went away and that the retention of the iconic red and white by Ferrari hinted at a continued relationship. Although carrying branding was banned in 2007, there were persistent rumours at the time that Philip Morris International had agreed to continue to hand over money until 2011. Only the Gauloises' sponsorship of Yamaha's Grand Prix motorcycle team achieved anything like the same profile, with the "Gauloises on the Go!!!!!" slogan translating to a string of "Go!!!!!" on the side of millions of Yamaha commuter bikes.

Marlboro tried to break its brand out of pure cigarettes in the 1970s with a range of very high quality, stylish, sports-related casual clothing. One of my colleagues had a jacket that, he admits, he stupidly destroyed when he put it into a tumble dryer in a laundrette when he was a student.

They weren't the only ones: Benson and Hedges tried to argue that it was more than a fag company by launching caf´s around the world. They were an instant flop. Camel, which sponsored Lotus had more success with a clothing range but, so far as we can tell, the vintage brand is nothing to do with either of the companies using that name today. And when the Lotus name returned to F1 it first arrived in Lotus green and mustard and then, after an unseemly fight, the Lotus company took the brand from Team Lotus and turned the cars Black and Gold, the colours that, along with Gold Leaf, Lotus F1 were most associated with.

And so, how come the Red and White on Ferrari is now overtly associated with Philip Morris International (PMI)?

Both Ferrari and PMI are saying that PMI is far more than a cigarette company. In fact, PMI's website says "We’ve built the world’s most successful cigarette company, with the world’s most popular and iconic brands. Now we’ve made a dramatic decision. We will be far more than a leading cigarette company. We’re building PMI’s future on smoke-free products that are a much better choice than cigarette smoking.
Indeed, our vision – for all of us at PMI – is that these products will one day replace cigarettes. " (https://www.pmi.com/who-we-are...).

One day. Not now.

For now, there's Mission Winnow. https://www.missionwinnow.com/... says "learning from our past, our visionaries are determined to build a better world for men and women who smoke, using our scientific engineering expertise to deliver it." It defines "winnowing" as removing anything unwanted or undesirable." "This isn't about a product or a brand."

It goes on "No brands. No products. This is our promise to you. Mission Winnow is about the relentless, passionate sifting of facts and preconceptions in pursuit of excellence. It is about who we are as a Company, and about the way we work to drive a better future. We will never promote our brands or our products here, just our passion. Our mission to drive a better future. Join us in Mission Winnow."

So, that's what they say. But, inevitably there is a brand association. Ever since the logo was revealed, all the talk has been about the previous association, just like in this article. Even the book of "Kimi's Haiku" is mentioned in the same breath as PMI.

And so, as a disassociation, it's not working. And everyone knows the name of PMI once more.

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