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Michelin's marketing chief: Making the most of the Michelin man


By The Drum Team | Editorial

July 7, 2010 | 6 min read

The Drum travelled to Claremont in the south of France to meet Michelin’s head of brand Claire Dorland-Clauzel, the first woman to sit on the board of the famous tyre brand. The famous Bibendum character is obviously at the heart of the city; Dorland-Clauzel explains why she has put him back at the heart of the marketing too.

Headquartered in the city of Claremont, in the South of France, tyre manufacturer Michelin is the largest employer in the city with a workforce of around 15,000. The company’s importance to the city is immeasurable, with the local university even hosting courses to suit its many employment needs. In fact, it’s not rare that many spend their whole life living and working within the city, going to school, university and then working at Michelin, without the need to move elsewhere.On The Drum’s arrival, Peter Snelling, communication director for the UK, describes the city where he lived for many years before returning to the UK, as being very like Aberdeen.Such a description isn’t exactly what The Drum has in mind when visiting the South of France, but with so many buildings mirroring the granite grey of Scotland’s third city, his point is clear...although it is still a distinctly French town, where its cathedral was the starting point of the Crusades. The Michelin brand is apparent throughout as well, with a branded gift shop present in the town centre and Bibendum - the French title for the Michelin man - also highly visible. The Drum is here to meet Claire Dorland-Clauzel, head of brand and communications for Michelin, who has spent two years practically revolutionizing the brand’s marketing.We meet in a quiet restaurant near the centre of town, where it is immediately clear just how passionate Dorland-Clauzel is about her role and the promotion of the brand. Asking her just a single question gives The Drum more than enough time to eat, as she dazzles with facts and figures and ideas about what she wants to achieve and where she wants to take the brand and its communications.MASCOTAs part of the revolution, Dorland-Clauzel has been deliberate in the development and "more active" usage of the Michelin brand mascot, Bibendum, to promote the company."In terms of making an emotional connection with the consumer, tyres are not emotional, but people love him. He’s a wonderful character and we’d be mad not use him to promote the company. In Japan, he is loved. We have people dressed up as him, and everyone must take photos with him."It's incredible the reaction he gets," Dorland-Clauzel says when asked just how important the character has been to the brand positioning over the years.AMBASSADOR"He has always played the role of an ambassador, of explaining and educating, so we decided to communicate around him because when he gives the message people listen and trust him. All of the competition are jealous that we have this character, so we definitely have to use him."Dorland-Clauzel joined Michelin two years ago having previously overseen the international marketing for insurance brand AXA, a move she says she couldn’t resist, but which also made sense as the company needed someone from 'the outside' to change its direction. She is also the first women to make it onto the company’s board."It has been good to come in 'from the outside' of tyre manufacturing. The people we are targeting, they are mostly outside too, so it took someone who wasn’t involved in the industry, and who had an idea of what messages they needed themselves to want to buy these tyres, to begin to take things forward," she explains."Tyres are not something that people want to just go out and buy. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks "I must buy some new tyres today," unless they really have to, so we have a challenge in getting our messages across to the general consumer."The challenge is heightened by Michelin’s standing in the tyre market as a premium quality brand, meaning that it must communicate quality over price and demonstrate that while there may be more initially affordable tyres available on the market, the longevity of the Michelin tyres make it a more long-term investment.INTERNATIONALWorking with TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, Michelin is set to roll out with the second phase of its international campaign. This phase will focus on longevity, before being followed up later in the year. The previous campaign promoted the fuel efficiency of the brand’s tyres and used a ready-for-action Michelin man fighting an evil fuel pump."The majority of consumers will not be able to tell the difference between a good quality, premium brand tyre and a low wrench tyre. Our role as a brand is to give to the consumer a way to choose the right tyre, which is the motto of the campaign," explains Dorland-Clauzel."As soon as people understand that they can save money through the longevity of a tyre, through the fact that a tyre can be fuel efficient, they are going to understand that there is a difference of price, but at the end of the life of the tyre they have saved money."Dorland-Clauzel is keen to stress that she considers traditional advertising to be every bit as important as online channels, using digital media as a tool to remind consumers when close to purchase to choose 'the right tyre'."Consumers buy tyres every two years - maybe one if they are driving a lot. They have got tyres in mind and through TV and print we can bring our brand to the front of the consumer’s mind."The new campaign focusing on tyre longevity will roll out across the UK in August.


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