The Michelin Man - Worldwide Known Symbol of the Brand

  • Author: OPONEO.IE

The best logo in history? The Michelin Man. This title was awarded to the legendary Bibendum by an international panel of professionals in 2000. The Michelin Man is a timeless brand icon, which for over 100 years, has been making the French brand Michelin famous.

It all began at the Lyon Universal Exhibition in 1894, in which the company's founders - brothers Andre and Eduard Michelin took part. It was there they noticed an evocatively-shaped pile of tyres on their stand, resembling a shape of a character. It was enough to add limbs and a face in order to create a distinctive man. Before that happened, however, four years had passed. Bibendum (as this is what the characteristic white figure is called) debuted in Michelin commercials. as a poster hero created by the artist Marius Rossillon

Michelin man poster

The first poster by O'Galop showing Michelin Man (Pic. Michelin.com).

When André Michelin met Marius Rossillon aka O'Galop, the artist had just finished work on an advertising poster for a brewery in Munich. O'Galop presented to Michelin the previously rejected poster by the brewery depicting Gambrinus, a half-mythological figure recognised as Flemish king and a creator of beer, rising cup. The poster’s sign proclaimed "Nunc est bibendum" (meaning: "Time to drink!").
Inspired by the picture, Michelin asked the artist to replace the character with an image of a man built with tyres. It was enough to put in the cup some broken glass instead of beer (a reference to how resistant are Michelin tyres , which do not fear puncture). Just topping up with the slogan "Nunc est bibendum" and a poster, which was to define the brand logo for over 100 years was ready.

Pince-nez and Cuban Cigars

Why did a French company base its campaign on a Latin slogan? For the same reason which Bibendum initially wore a pince-nez and was smoking a Cuban cigar. It's simple - the tyres ads were then designed for an extremely narrow social group, as a purchase of a car could be only afforded by affluent individuals, often well-travelled and familiar with foreign languages. No wonder then, that Bibendum was carrying items characteristic of this social group and the catchphrase was not in French.

Michelin Man

Initially Bibendum didn’t look so pleasant as he  is now - his characteristic smile appeared in later years (Pic. Michelin.com).
 

Bibendum is a name that was actually spread by accident. During the Paris-Amsterdam-Paris races in July 1898, the driver Léon Théry, greeted André Michelin with a shout, "Here comes Bibendum!" using the word from the poster. Théry did not know Latin and did not know what it meant, but the name Bibendum stayed for good and the tyre man soon started to be officially referred to as such.

Black Tyres, White Michelin Man

What may raise some questions now is Bibendum’s colour - why is he white? This is residue of what tyres once looked like. Initially, their colour was ivory. The first black tyres appeared only in 1912, when the rubber compound started to be added with preservatives and soot. Nevertheless, Bibendum remained the colour in which it was initially created.
The attributes, which formerly accompanied Bibendum, were not only his pince-nez and a cigar. The Michelin Man outfits changed depending on the country or region of the world for which the ad was intended for. To the UK "Sir Bibendum" visited equipped with a helmet, shield and a lance. On posters designed for the North African market, the man was wearing a Bedouin costume, and Italian commercials were presented dressed in a tuxedo with a tricolour sash, surrounded by beautiful women.

Michelin Man

Bibendum  today and in the past - despite the appearance of black tyres on the market, the Michelin Man remained white (Pic. Michelin.com).

Over time, the original Bibendum’s costume features gradually began to be abandoned and its appearance unified, so he was presented the same in every part of the world (note that Bibendum is representing Michelin in over 150 countries!). Until 1925, Bibendum got rid of the pince-nez and four years later had his last cigar, which was partly influenced by an epidemic of tuberculosis at the time.

The Character from Comics, Novels and Songs

Over the years, the Michelin Man became a part of pop culture to such an extent that to this day, is regarded worldwide as one of the most popular symbols of brands. There have been songs created about him (French reggae band Tryo), appeared in comic books (René Goscinny " Asterix in Switzerland") and described in books (William Gibson, "Pattern Recognition").

Michelin man

That’s how Bibendum was presented in 1920 in Argentina. 

And who decided that the Michelin logo was the best logo ever created? A jury of 22 designers, heads of advertising agencies and authorities in the field of branding. It happened in the competition conducted in 2000 by the Financial Times and the Canadian Report on Business magazine. It was then Bibendum was awarded with the highest awards (the roundel - logo of the London Underground took second place).
 

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As Edouard Michelin, the former president of Michelin and the great-grandson of Édouard Michelin said, Bibendum is much more than a corporate logo or a marketing tool. It is a symbol that has practically existed since the beginning of the automotive industry, which gives it a much broader context and status incomparable to any other logo and above all, makes the character trustworthy and true.

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