Trouble for Philip Morris as Australia investigates Ferrari-Mission Winnow branding

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International is bracing itself for trouble Down Under, after the Australian government launched several investigations into the legality of its new Ferrari-Mission Winnow branding.

Mission Winnow – PMI’s new non-product-related branding campaign – was conceived as an attempt to raise awareness of the company’s embrace of a smoke-free future and its transformation in terms of science and technology.

But critics in Australia say the campaign is a deliberate attempt to get around the country’s longstanding ban on tobacco advertising, and an attempt to hint at PMI’s flagship brand and former Ferrari sponsor: Marlboro.

Critics say the shape of the Mission Winnow logo – made up of a red ‘M’ and red ‘W’ in between two white chevrons – is almost identical to the Marlboro white-and-red chevron that used to adorn the Ferrari F1 car.

PMI denies the accusations, and has reiterated that its Mission Winnow branding is legal in all Formula 1 territories, and has no connection to PMI tobacco products.

As Riccardo Parino, PMI’s vice-president of global event partnerships, told SportBusiness Sponsorship: “Our basic principle is that these messages are not related to any tobacco brand or products, and that it is a message about the company.

“We therefore have the potential to go everywhere based on our assessment of the regulations.”

Read this: ‘Philip Morris makes branding comeback with Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow’

The Mission Winnow-Ferrari partnership launched at the Japanese Grand Prix in October last year, and featured at the last four races of the season.

Last week, Australian media reported that the federal government’s Department of Health, and Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, are investigating whether the Mission Winnow campaign is in breach of tobacco advertising laws.

A separate investigation has also been launched by the Australian Communications and Media Authority – a federal media watchdog – after local TV stations Network Ten and Foxtel broadcast images of the Ferrari F1 car with Mission Winnow branding from the Japanese Grand Prix.

The investigation continues, but the Australian government hopes the issue will be resolved in time for this year’s F1 season opener in Melbourne on March 17.