linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!
Michelin Man Brand

Michelin Man - Pumped

  Michelin Man
by Jackson Mahr
January 3, 2005

You can go into any bookshop in any big city and find a reference book that will tell you how you should best be applying personality to your brand—how you should be giving your brand a face and an intangible human-ness that will make consumers personally engage with your brand and feel warmer when buying the product it represents. Chapters and volumes and libraries are devoted to the subject. However there is a brand that has been doing this long before we imagined that a brand could be something more than a stamp on the side of a delivery truck.


The Michelin Man, otherwise known as Bibendum, is the ultimate in personality-driven branding. Inspired by a man-shaped pile of tires that the Michelin brothers originally saw at the Lyon Universal Exhibition in 1894, he started out as a fairly spooky looking character—a fat foppish aristocrat with a monocle—and evolved into an adored symbol recognized worldwide.

From a design perspective, the Michelin man has an extraordinary versatility. Every major organization has volumes of instructions that tell you that their brand needs to be a certain size and particular color, that it needs a certain amount of white space around it or must never appear in a certain position on the page—all very rigid and tightly managed rules that conventional thought says enhance a brand’s strength.

Michelin tends to break most of these rules when it comes to Bibendum. Brands are supposed to be consistent, they’re not supposed to change shape; Michelin’s brand smiles, waves, runs, folds his arms and could probably play pétanque. His actions don’t erode Michelin’s brand recognition—he’s still the Michelin Man.

If other brands with more abstract logos want to project a happy warm image, there is a lot of marketing and persuasion involved in getting an abstract logo or typeface to take on a warm human quality—not to mention a great deal of cash. For the Michelin man to do it, the brand managers simply draw a little smile. Bibendum’s color is a brand manager’s dream come true—black and white: easy to manage, cheap to print, no fussy Pantone colors.

Bibendum started life looking the way individual commissioned artists painted him. There wasn’t really any consistent style to him apart from being fat and being made of tires. This meant that he was the subject of portraiture rather than a consistent graphic device. A slicker line drawing version appears now; the version we are all familiar with has lost all graphic reference to being made of tires. Today, he is a little thinner, a lot friendlier and appears as a bouncy soft version, safe for children to cuddle at public events. The Michelin Man’s message has always been about safety and his marshmallow physique reiterates this like an airbag (Michelin Man shaped airbags—now there’s an idea). The simplicity of the lines makes a potentially complex shape into an easily recognizable (and reproducible) icon.

The mark of a brand’s strength is when its logo can stand alone, without a name, and retain its recognition. Nike, Apple and Shell have all achieved this status. Michelin certainly has the same recognition value, and graphically Bibendum can stand alone.

Bibendum could be considered a naïve brand—one first conceived in the days when a brand could just as easily be invented by the driver of the delivery truck as the boss. There were no brand consultancies, no focus groups and certainly no Pantone color charts. Other brands like Levi’s, Oxo and Shell were developed in the same sort of vintage and fashion. Nowadays it is doubtful that a brand consultancy would name an oil company after an explosive device, or a crustacean. Branding meant something different back then. That’s the charm of naïve brands—the people who invented them didn’t have a corporate track record to refer to and therefore came up with ideas that possessed a kind of innocence.

Another naïve move is to have the same brand for tires and tourist guides. This sprung from a marketing idea that said “You have the tires, now here’s where you can go on them.” Today it would be considered a little odd, if not obtuse marketing behavior to have the same brand for tires and restaurant guides; it would be a little like Chanel delving into the auto parts business or Goodyear selling frozen dinners. Today we would not only make books a sub-brand of the Michelin brand, we would probably be inclined to distance them altogether by devising a totally different brand.

Creating a brand involves stretching the product’s message beyond the product itself. Good brands don’t just say, “We make a good product,” but “Our great product will make your life better.” Michelin does this in a way few other brands do. It makes the brand feel safe, fun, happy and humorous. Bibendum is retro chic, a French national icon, a spokesperson and a jolly decent chap who probably wouldn’t mind babysitting your kids on a Friday night. In his naïveté, he teaches us not to be so stodgy with our brands, let the reigns a little loose and have some fun. Flexibility, warmth and personality count for a lot and can mean more to consumers than consistency, order and the right shade of red.


Jackson Mahr is a director of Kodimedia, a London based design and brand consultancy.

 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 17 )  email

  brandchannel profile archive   2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  | 2005  |  2004  |  2003  |  2002  |  2001
Dec 19, 2005 Jonathan Adler - furnishing touch -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  Home furnishings design brand Jonathan Adler proves that the pot grows when you stick to what you love best.
Dec 12, 2005 The Pop Shoppe - pops back -- Renée Alexander
  The Pop Shoppe pours on the nostalgia to attract new markets with its retro appeal.
Dec 5, 2005 Express Personnel - clocks in -- Dale Buss
  Express Personnel takes a slow approach to winning over accounts.
Nov 28, 2005 Canadian Tire - auto response -- Renée Alexander
  Canadian Tire wheels out a female-friendly store.
Nov 21, 2005 Starbucks - supreme bean -- John Simmons
  On what grounds does Starbucks succeed in places where American brands are not welcome?
Nov 14, 2005 Preserve Toothbrush - envirodental -- Evelyn Hafferty
  The quest to sell an eight-dollar toothbrush leads to over-design in the category and waste in our landfills. Recycline’s Preserve sinks its teeth into a more sustainable solution.
Nov 7, 2005 REI - working out -- Dale Buss
  Outdoor gear retailer REI climbs hand in hand with its employees.
Oct 31, 2005 Vespa - viva -- Jackson Mahr
  Vespa’s authenticity gives it an unassuming cool that has survived through the decades.
Oct 24, 2005 NHL - face-off -- Evelyn Hafferty
  The NHL shoots, but does it score with its new logo?
Oct 17, 2005 Putumayo - earth tones -- Alycia de Mesa
  Putumayo packages world music for the neophyte.
Oct 10, 2005 Tim Hortons - power play -- Renée Alexander
  Can Canadian fast-food franchise Tim Hortons tempt Americans away from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s?
Oct 3, 2005 Neau - no water -- Erwin Wijman
  A social campaign in the Netherlands says Neau to bottled waters.
Sep 26, 2005 The Source - rewired -- Renée Alexander
  RadioShack rebrands itself in Canada as The Source and signals its approach up North.
Sep 19, 2005 Dragonair - flights of fancy -- Adeline Chong
  Flying Dragons: Dragonair’s livery design draws from Chinese tradition.
Sep 12, 2005 Make Poverty History - passion statement -- Rob Mitchell
  Non-profit organization Make Poverty History makes history in a very short period of time by getting on the agenda of the G8 summit.
Sep 5, 2005 Clear RX - design on drugs -- Evelyn Hafferty
  Target shows bottle by adopting an innovative approach to pharmaceutical container design.
Aug 29, 2005 Napster - pounces -- Rob Mitchell
  Cat Tails: Napster springs back to life only to encounter an Apple in its place.
Aug 22, 2005 Mountain Crest - brewing feud -- Renée Alexander
  Mountain Crest starts a bar brawl among Canadian brewers.
Aug 15, 2005 CBGB - punks out -- Abram Sauer
  Punk rock venue CBGB’s faces extinction 20 years past its due date.
Aug 8, 2005 Tommy Bahama - dressed to chill -- Alycia de Mesa
  Tommy Bahama hopes to entice you into the good life of sun and surf.
Aug 1, 2005 United Nations - fractured -- Lisa Marchese and Rachel Simmons
  Is the United Nations in crisis? Not surprisingly a recent poll found the UN suffers from negative perceptions, but what to do?
Jul 25, 2005 The Peninsula Hotels - made -- Adeline Chong
  The Peninsula Hotel anchors its brand in its staff.
Jul 18, 2005 Harry Potter - brand wizard -- Stephen Brown
  What's the secret behind the Harry Potter brand?
Jul 11, 2005 Jetsgo - looney -- Renée Alexander
  Three strikes you're out: The founder of failed airlines Jetsgo, Intair and Royal is still trying to take off, but can a brand image recover from bankruptcy?
Jul 4, 2005 America - home free? -- Simon Anholt
  The challenger to America's brand is not America's military foes, but the disaffection of its consumers and the skill and determination of its competitors.
Jun 27, 2005 Dubai - mirage? -- Sunil Varughese
  Enhancing Brand Dubai
Jun 20, 2005 Liberator - well positioned -- Abram Sauer
  Erotic goods manufacturer Liberator straddles the market between an X-treme sport for the XXX crowd and a remedy for bad back sufferers.
Jun 13, 2005 easyGroup - complex -- Jackson Mahr
  EasyGroup: are the strengths of each sub-brand robbed by the diversity of the others?
Jun 6, 2005 Kit Kat - barred -- Slaven Marinovich
  Will the courts rest on Nestlé's attempt to register Kit Kat's "Have a break" strapline?
May 30, 2005 Essence - right time? -- A.K. Cabell
  Essence leads the way in targeting African-American women.
May 23, 2005 MG Rover - sacked -- Chris Grannell
  MG Rover’s breakdown demonstrates the value of intangible assets.
May 16, 2005 Lloyds TSB - high interest? -- Alicia Clegg
  Lloyds TSB set out to raise interest among job seekers in the UK, but how does its recruitment campaign work with the overall brand identity?
May 9, 2005 Sony - played -- Jackson Mahr and Lesley Keene
  Sony’s fall is not isolated to its own actions; however it needs to act immediately to keep its media empire from crumbling.
May 2, 2005 QuikTrip - full service -- Alycia de Mesa
  QuikTrip strives to show that quick doesn’t need to mean nasty.
Apr 25, 2005 Hummer H3 - civilized -- Alycia de Mesa
  The General Motors sets out to rule the road with the Hummer H3.
Apr 18, 2005 Microsoft - no connection -- Jackson Mahr
  How can Microsoft be such a valuable brand when most users are so resentful of the company and its products.
Apr 11, 2005 H&R Block - angling -- Peter J. Burger
  H&R Block hopes its name will sprout up throughout the year, not just in spring.
Apr 4, 2005 Les Poochs - doggy style -- Robert Sprung
  Can an old marketer learn new tricks from a canine fragrance brand?
Mar 28, 2005 Starbucks Coffee Liqueur - double shot -- Alycia de Mesa
  Two vices for the price of one: Starbucks introduces Coffee Liqueur.
Mar 21, 2005 London Underground - bridging the gap -- Jackson Mahr
  Can the London Underground take its quaint wartime brand into the 21st century?
Mar 14, 2005 agnès b - je ne sais quoi -- Jackson Mahr
  Fashion brand agnès b finds small is beautiful.
Mar 7, 2005 Michelin Red Guide - cooked -- Joe Ray
  Recent events have scorched the Michelin Red Guide’s credibility, but is its goose in fact cooked?
Feb 28, 2005 Land Rover LR3 - driven -- Alycia de Mesa
  LR3: How does the first Land Rover developed entirely under Ford Motor Company ownership handle?
Feb 21, 2005 Nalgene Outdoor - venturing -- Jared Salter
  Nalgene’s initial popularity started with a happy accident, but it took a bit more planning to turn it into a success.
Feb 14, 2005 OnStar - first aid -- Dale Buss
  General Motor’s OnStar technology arrives after a long journey.
Feb 7, 2005 IBM - reboots -- Chris Grannell
  What does the sale of IBM’s manufacturing unit to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo mean for either brand?
Jan 31, 2005 Google Appliance - nice rack -- Chris Grannell
  Google links its brand with a hardware offering, the Search Appliance.
Jan 24, 2005 Virgin - spreads -- Jackson Mahr
  How far can Virgin stretch before the message is no longer pure?
Jan 17, 2005 Walkers Sensations - chip shape -- Alicia Clegg
  Walkers Sensations brings a premium brand to the mainstream market.
Jan 10, 2005 Maxim - brand masturbation -- Abram Sauer
  Can Maxim extend its brand without shortening its life?