How Michelin Tires Challenged the Marketing Status Quo in 1900

One of our favorite challenger marketing case studies comes from an unlikely source and an unlikely time. Luckily the campaign is still active more than 100 years later even if most people don’t realise who or why it was started. 

Back in the early 1900s, the Michelin tire company was looking for ways to boost car ownership and driving in general to sell more tires. They probably did their fair share of ‘traditional’ marketing (whatever that was at the time), but they also took a more creative but very strategically sound approach by starting a book of restaurant guides and ratings. The guides reviewed restaurants in various locations, giving people a reason to drive more. But even more importantly, they were good! So good, in fact, that the Michelin star is still renowned as the highest accolade a restaurant can receive. 


We love this case study because it’s one of the purest examples of a brand creating a media company around what they stand for in a way that adds value to the audience they’re trying to reach. Others are Guinness with their book of world records (get people to spend more time in pubs by having more to talk about) and Red Bull with their extreme sports events. 


If you add value through your marketing and communications to the audience you’re trying to reach, they will come to you. They will trust and advocate for your brand and they will buy your product or service. It’s not a new idea (at least 100 years old, but I’m sure Michelin wasn’t the first), but it is tried and true – when done well… 


Here’s how to get started if you want to explore this kind of strategy:


  1. Figure out what your brand stands for to your audience (for Michelin it was travel and adventure)
  2. Come up with a way to produce valuable content on that topic that doesn’t already exist (a fine dining guide)
  3. Focus on editorial integrity, not short-term business objectives (find the best restaurants, not the ones that were furthest away) 
  4. Distribute the content through underpriced attention channels (we’re not sure how Michelin got the guides into people’s hands, and of course now they basically sell themselves with the brand they’ve built. If they were starting those guides again today there would probably be a strong TikTok and influencer campaign behind them though!)



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