Michelin Man Carries a Heavy Load

He’s looking pretty spry for a guy who’s 111 years old, particularly now that he’s so animated. I’m talking about old Bibendum, the Michelin Man, the only pneumatic celebrity I’m truly crazy about. He’ll never disappoint us by sleeping with underlings or backdating his options, and he can stay as roly-poly as he wants. As brand icons go, the guy is golden.

So, while the client positions this new global work from TBWA\Chiat\Day (the agency’s first since winning the business last year) as a “radical departure from passive to active character,” it’s actually more of a minor makeover, which is appropriate.

Campbell-Ewald had already modernized his look (and created an awesome Web site of a futuristic Michelin factory). He had benefited from the latest slimming technology, equivalent to the way goose-down has gotten less bulky in jackets. But he was a guy in a tire suit with a CGI face.

Now that he is completely animated, however, Bibendum leaves the Stay Puft/Pillsbury Doughboy territory well behind and looks more like he’s been working out — like an all-whitish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who throws tires instead of nunchucks.

The tire-throwing thing is taken straight from one of the company’s earliest posters, an incredibly charming illustration that appeared in turn-of-the-century France. Against a blue background, Mr. M — made up of a collection of white bicycle tires with a Teddy Roosevelt-like lorgnette and cigar and red tie-up boots — was shown removing all of his midsection (down to sheer air) and throwing pieces of it to lucky passersby. The copy was brilliant and radically simple: “Le meilleur. Le moins cher” (“The best. The least expensive”).

Which brings me to my first complaint about the new work: too many taglines. We get “The right tire changes everything,” which seems OK, until the “everything” part, which is an overpromise. Then we also get “A better way forward.” Which is also OK, if a bit grandiose, like something a global health organization would use. (I admit to a prejudice here. I don’t think Michelin will ever get a better tagline than “Because so much is riding on your tires,” which was created back in the day by DDB in a campaign that I really liked that also used babies.)

And while the new 30-second spot is entertaining and nice enough, I have a similar cavil about it. There’s just too much stuff crammed into it for me to really enjoy it. There’s wall-to-wall copy talking at us, over a dark-ish, dense, sort of chaotic-looking city. The gas pump looms over everything with octopus-like tentacles, and looks at times like an English double-decker bus and a giant slot machine.

Psyop did the animation, and there is no more legendary place to produce something like this. They did “Happiness Factory” and “Heist,” this year’s Emmy-award winner, both for Coca-Cola. We could see every drop of moisture on every blade of grass in that spot.

But while I like the storybook quality of cities filled with cars popping on new tires, there isn’t any similarly jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring moment of animation here.

It feels more old-school, which is reassuring, and the nostalgia angle feels right for our times. Yet visually it’s not getting the techno-forward fuel-saving message across. I think it will work well in emerging markets, and any spend involving Bibendum, in the end, is good for the brand.

I look forward to the other two animated spots that are still works in progress. Ironically, the ultimate victory for the campaign will be when it can reduce itself to the brilliant graphic simplicity of the work from 100 years ago.

Publish date: October 7, 2009 https://dev.adweek.com/brand-marketing/michelin-man-carries-heavy-load-100558/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT