The 114-Year-Old Viral Marketing Campaign

, Another rant from , 2 Comments

Have you ever dined at a Michelin Star restaurant?

Michelin stars are pretty much the academy awards for cuisine and fine dining. If you have a restaurant with one Michelin star, then you are a pretty well respected establishment. Two stars? Even more so. But three Michelin stars – you are a God of food!

Michelin Tires on the other hand, are one of the largest tire producers in the world. Michelin Tires started from humble beginnings by two brothers – André and Edouard – in France in 1889. They sell a quality product that today helps move over a billion vehicles world-wide.

But did you know they are the same business?

In the early days of the business, Michelin had a bit of a problem. Cars were not as widely used as they are today. In 1900, there were only 3000 cars on the road in all of France, and Michelin had built such a good product that it took quite some time for these cars to require a new set of tires.

As great and reliable as their product may be, if people are rarely buying it, then your business is likely to run into trouble.

The Michelin brothers recognised this and knew they had to think outside of the box or their business would crumble. They needed a way to keep the quality that their tires were renowned for, but also find a way to get users of these cars to buy more of their product.

The best way of achieving this was to figure out a way of getting people to use their cars more. More driving = more tire wear.
More tire wear = more tire purchases.

The Michelin Guide - 1900So the Michelin brothers developed the Michelin Guide. The Michelin guide contained a scattering of reviews and features about various restaurants and hotels around France – and the Michelin star rating system was created.

The guide also contained maps, car care tips and advice on how to change a tire (of course). It was developed to be a driving companion to anyone with a car. Designed to encourage people to drive out a little bit further to check out the establishments in the book, with the added bonus of being a constant Michelin advertisement that targeted audience everywhere they went.

Over the next few years, the guide grew in popularity and began being printed for other European countries. As the distribution of the guide grew, so too did Michelin tires’ audience and sales.

Within a decade, Michelin; who just a few years earlier were scratching their heads about how to grow their business, were now the number one tire supplier in all of Europe.

Today, Michelin Tires is worth over €21bill, employs over 111,000 people and their 100+ year old ‘viral campaign’ is known across the entire planet and going stronger than ever before.

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This is one of my favourite business marketing stories.

It’s my go-to story that I like to bring up in ideation or brainstorming sessions if they hit a lull. I find it helps inject a bit of ‘think outside of the box’ mojo into the conversation.

The Michelin brothers could’ve very easily said “We just deal with tires. This is just the way it is”. But they didn’t. They took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. They saw that for customers, it wasn’t really about tires. Ultimately, it was about what tires allowed them to do – whether the customer was aware of that or not.

They put themselves in their customers shoes and said “We can do something infinitely better than just sell tires. We can encourage customer to have an amazing experience”.

The Michelin brothers accepted the fact that buying tires isn’t ‘sexy’ (apologies to any tire sellers reading this) and looked for the alternative angle.
‘Sexy’ is traveling the country and staying in a world-class hotel.
‘Sexy’ is dining at one of the worlds best restaurants.

One of the most toxic sentences in marketing is “But this is just how it’s always been done”. Nine words that can kill creativity quicker than a bullet to the head. This way of thinking encourages vanilla marketing at best. Don’t get me wrong, vanilla has it’s purpose, but it’s the flavour that requires little thought or adventure. Vanilla isn’t the flavour you choose if there are 150 other flavours to choose from, especially if your competition is up for trying different flavours.

Ice Cream Flavours

It takes major ‘cojones’ and awareness to make a call on campaigns like Old Spice or more recently Honda’s (extremely awesome) homage to 80’s action figures. But THAT is true marketing genius in my opinion. They knew who their audience was and decided to break the traditional model to give them a whole new, outside-of-the-box experience.

I’m in awe of the brands who take a punt on these seemingly crazy ideas. They take a calculated risk to create an experience that customers are asking… no… SCREAMING for.

There are a million brands who wish they had their very own ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ Old Spice campaign or ‘Will It Blend’ viral video.

Im on a horse - Old Spice

Every business envies how these brand’s created (and executed) such effective and wonderful ideas, but very few are willing to let go of their “but this is how it’s always been done” mentality. To think outside of the box and try a flavour other than safe ol’ vanilla for themselves.


This article was first published on my profile at The Pulse – LinkedIn’s blog network for professionals


Who the hell is Daylan Pearce?

Daylan is a digital strategist for branding agency Principals. Looking after digital and customer experience projects, Daylan has been featured in The New York Times,, B&T, ProBlogger and more. He once ate 13 McDonald's cheeseburgers in under 5 minutes, but strongly advises against anyone else ever trying that. He also feels slightly odd when writing about himself in the third person for blog biography summaries.


2 Responses

  1. Stew Walker

    December 12, 2014 8:03 AM

    Hey Daylan. Thanks for a fab post. An inspiring story and beautifully written as always (apart from the American spelling of ‘tires’).