Philip Morris International and Ferrari recently launched the Mission Winnow campaign. But what exactly is it and how could it change advertising for tobacco companies in F1?

In 2007, tobacco advertising was officially banned from Formula One. It had been a long time coming, with confirmation of the decision coming way back in 2001 to give teams the chance to search for sponsorship deals beyond what had become a reliable revenue stream.

It was a huge, wide-reaching decision as tobacco advertising had been synonymous with F1 for decades.

Philip Morris International (PMI), in particular, enjoyed great exposure over the years. Some of F1’s most iconic moments came with the company’s Marlboro livery on the front of cars – from Ayrton Senna’s McLaren to Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari.

It was these deep roots within F1 that drove PMI’s unlikely decision to stay in the sport when every other company made its exit. West at McLaren, 555 at Brawn, and Lucky Strike at Honda all left F1 when the ban was enforced in 2007.

With advertising removed from cars and the coveralls of drivers and mechanics, PMI’s sponsorship of Ferrari was based almost exclusively on corporate hospitality. The global coverage and grandeur of Formula One still deemed to be enough of a pull to continue the relationship.

However in 2018, PMI’s place on the Ferrari car was restored.

This wasn’t thanks to an overhaul of tobacco advertising legislation but thanks to an innovative campaign called Mission Winnow. Essentially a CSR initiative, PMI’s Mission Winnow showcased the company’s scientific pursuit of less harmful methods of consuming tobacco.

‘Winnow’ is an old English word that describes the separating out of the unnecessary, emblematic of PMI’s attempts to create products for smokers that release less toxic chemicals than cigarettes.

Inevitably, eyebrows were immediately raised at the prospect of a cigarette company trying to discourage people from smoking traditional cigarettes.

But those behind Mission Winnow, and the extensive team of scientists working for PMI at its global research centre in Neuchatel, Switzerland, insist that the intentions are genuine.

“Through Mission Winnow we want to let the world know how we have changed,” said André Calantzopoulos, Chief Executive Officer of PMI. “We want to share our pride in the transformation that the people of PMI have achieved, as well as our dedication to rigorous science and innovation that can lead to a better future.

“We will use this global platform as a window into the new PMI and to challenge preconceptions, as we know there are many who may have doubts about us and our motivations. Our partnership with Scuderia Ferrari gives us the opportunity to build on many encouraging individual conversations with critics and supporters alike and reach out to a broad audience to engage at scale.”

That engagement has initially taken place in the Paddock, with Mission Winnow front and centre of the Ferrari hospitality experience at the 2018 season finale in Abu Dhabi. It also appears on the Ferrari wing and drivers’ helmets.

“Mission Winnow is about how we are transforming as a company, what we believe in and the way we work to enable a better future,” said ,” Miroslaw Zielinski, President Science & Innovation at PMI explains. “Scuderia Ferrari is the ideal partner for Mission Winnow because of the team’s passion for innovation and drive to constantly improve in the quest for victory.

The new campaign has brought PMI back to the forefront of F1 and it will surely be only a matter of time before other tobacco companies take inspiration from the company’s avant-garde approach to advertising.