Michelin's tire man, Bibendum, is back to promote the company's new Premier tires, which launched last year. The campaign touts the tires' ability to maintain grip and performance over their lifetime, due to an "evolving tread" design, and use of high-traction rubber compounds.
Unlike the typical creative where real tires on real cars are shown going through real puddles and snow -- usually in slo-mo -- the Michelin campaign, via TBWA\Chiat\Day and New York-based animation shop Psyop, uses Pixar-style animation to deliver the prolonged-safety message. Without going technical, the tire keeps its grip by changing its footprint as it wears.
In the spot, which takes place in a fictive “Bib's World,” kind of toyland reminiscent of Buzz Lightyear, a father -- with Bibendum standing behind him -- sees his daughter off in her micro-compact car [think Smart with four seats], but before she takes off, Bibendum does his famous tire Frisbee thing, re-shoeing her car with Premiers. Off she goes, and as a voiceover explains the tire's benefits, we see her avoid collisions with other cars, and even a commuter train, as the seasons change.
Scott Clark, COO of Michelin North America’s passenger and light truck tire division, tells Marketing Daily that the campaign addresses a challenge for the company, and probably all tire makers, around getting consumers to realize that tires are the first-line in safety technology; it isn't all about the air bags. In bad weather especially, tires are the only thing preventing cars from being expensive air-hockey pucks. “[People] tend to forget about that contact pad between you and the road,” he says. “Most consumers do have a general idea that when a tire wears, performance degrades, particularly in wet roads and snow. But for a lot of people, replacement comes when there's ‘unplanned distress’ [a flat, for example].”
He concedes that tires aren't cheap; while consumers know they have to buy them at some point, they don't put a lot of thought into it. “It's ‘how do I decide what's right for me. What are the benefits?’ For us, we can bring to consumers' attention something unique: performance capability actually starts out high and doesn't degrade. The general idea of ‘Bib’s World’ is it allows us, in an engaging way, dramatize the performance of our tire in way that is visually distinct.”
Michelin, which is second among the four major tire players after Bridgestone, has a premium position in the U.S. market. And as Clark points out, the brand tends to be a bit more expensive. “But performance is better, and there's better value over the life of the product.” He says that in addition to the spot, there are digital elements, PR efforts around safe driving, and dealer efforts around consumer education.
In racing -- traditionally a major part of both brand building and product innovation for tire-makers -- Michelin is globally involved in rally racing, endurance sports car racing, and in the U.S. the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. The company is also official tire and exclusive tire provider of the new FIA Formula-e electric car-racing series, whose next race is in two weeks in Long Beach, Calif. Michelin has its tires and logo on all the race cars.