Michelin Man promotional character campaign - Trademark Michelin Tire Co. Image Copyright - Photos@VectorTrust.com We provide editorial, marketing and web content to clients worldwide.

The Michelin Man corporate logo is recognized the world around, as the symbol for the largest tire company (by market share). Few people outside Europe (mostly France)
know his name or how he has evolved over the years.

The Michelin Man’s name is Bibendum, which unintentionally came from the first advertising posters which read (in Latin) “Nunc est bibendum". Roughly translated as “Now is the time to drink”, that would not be politically correct today, unless you understand his “birth”. The earliest depictions of Bibendum showed a “tire man” smoking a cigar and drinking from a champagne glass, filled with nails, broken glass and other roadway hazards. Remember Bibendum debuted in April of 1898, when pneumatic tires were a novelty. The solid rubber tire makers portrayed “air-filled” tires as nothing more than glorified balloons, ready to burst. Since automobiles were still new too, as a rich man’s toy, the aristocratic, “tire man”, with a cigar and champagne glass now makes logical sense, in that time and day.

Cute and cuddly in 2005, Bibendum wasn’t always portrayed that way. For years he looked more like a plump, mummy creature. He’s been a ballroom dancer, a gladiator, an incorrigible “ladies man”, a motorist “guardian angel” and “today” he stars in TV commercials as a test driver for high performance tires.

If Bibendum is a man is made of tires, why isn’t he black? Once again, the arcane world of early tire making is lost on most car owners of today. Tire were not black until about Bibendum 15th birthday. Early tires were a dull gray/white or a light tan color. In 1912, tire manufacturers discovered that adding carbon-black to the rubber compound significantly enhanced durability. They’ve been black ever since. Bibendum never changed, and he never had a “black” twin, friend or mate. Though not the oldest corporate spokesman, ( The Quaker Oats Pilgrim debuted in 1877 and Aunt Jemima started pouring syrup in the late 1880’s), Bibendum does pre-date most of the long-running icons we know. The 19-teens brought us Mr. Peanut and the Morton Salt Girl. The Jolly Green Giant and Reddy Kilowatt came along in the 1920’s. Betty Crocker debuted in 1921, as a way for the food company to “talk” to customers that sent letters requesting recipes. Bibendum was a letter writer for a period too. The famous Michelin Guide started in 1907, as a pre-internet “travel blog” suggesting destinations for owners of the growing automobile business. Bibendum recommended hotels and the best restaurants to encourage leisure destination travel. Greater demand for travel increased automobile use and therefore tire sales, helping Michelin grow into one of the 300 largest companies in the world.

Just think, you thought the Michelin man was only an advertising logo.


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