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Why Michelin and Ketchum promoted tire safety by creating limited edition Vans

Ketchum won the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ category at The Drum PR Awards 2019 with its ‘StreetTread’ campaign for Michelin North America. Here, the agency reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

As a top tire brand, Michelin is a thought leader on driving safety. Through extensive research, the company is continually identifying new driving trends and patterns. That’s how our PR firm discovered a troubling one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data confirm motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of teenagers in America. Deeper inspection uncovered that improperly maintained tires contribute to 300,000+ teen car accidents annually. To understand why, we commissioned research among parents and teens, learning that 42% of teens are driving on unsafe tires with insufficient tread — and half don’t even know how to check tire tread. Further, among the half who claim they do, most aren’t checking.

So, we simply needed to raise awareness, right? Turns out it’s not that simple. Our examination of driver’s education manuals across 50 states revealed a dangerous omission: just two states offered any information on tire safety.

The strategy

If teenagers care more about their cars than the tires under them, and are unconcerned about tire safety, how do we motivate them to care? Certainly, one answer would be to convince every state to make tire safety a mandatory part of driver’s education. But that alone wouldn’t close the gap between knowledge and behavior.

Research into what teens spend their own money on after cars (at 9%) pointed directly to the $18B sneaker industry (at 8%). That’s when the rubber hit the road. Tires and sneakers have something in common: tread.

Teens do care about their sneaker’s tread and performance. So, we convinced America’s coolest teen shoe brand, Vans, to create a rare limited-edition sneaker for Michelin to use to educate teens to earn StreetTread. To win a pair, teens just had to show us they knew how to measure tire tread. And that simply required a U.S. penny.

Teenagers don’t need another lecture. Reams of research and all the driver’s education in the world wouldn’t necessarily convince them to check their tires. But they do respond when you speak and connect in their language around their biggest interests. The Michelin/Vans partnership would be the proxy for talking about the importance of tread, pressure and performance – not just for your ‘kicks’, but for your car tires, too.

Authenticity was crucial, and Vans delivered the best ticket into American sneaker culture, as an iconic fashion brand among teens, a hashtag favorite on social media, and the maker of distinctive shoes that teens collect. Dangling the chance to be just one of 100 owners of a pair of limited-edition Michelin StreetTread Vans, we’d create a stir by announcing they could be obtained with just a U.S. penny — the incredibly simple, but perfectly accurate, device for measuring tire tread depth.

The campaign

Teens had to pass one simple test: insert a U.S. penny into their tire tread and upload a photo/video to www.BeyondTheDrivingTest.com. If you can see the top of Abe Lincoln's head, it’s time to replace your tires. Only by sharing this test on social media could they qualify to win the exclusive #StreetTreadContest Vans.

In May, a giant Michelin x Vans sneaker mobile departed California for New York, with the campaign URL printed on the sole. Social media buzzed as consumers documented the journey, while teaser content from Michelin and Vans-affiliated channels fuelled speculation. Upon arrival, an event was held at Vans Union Square where youth lifestyle media (like Highsnobiety and HotNewHipHop.com) carried Michelin’s messages.

We sustained reach and momentum over three months by partnering with popular teen influencers to promote the shoes and tire safety peer-to-peer, while #StreetTreadContest winners shared their unboxing videos on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

The results

Michelin’s StreetTread campaign is achieving serious traction across America. Not only have all 50 US states pledged to add tire maintenance and safety instruction to their statewide driver’s education manuals (with 32 already launching updated materials), but StreetTread has already reached 37.7 million teens directly through the social and news channels they most trust and consume. By creatively linking our tire safety message so closely with sneaker tread, we effectively snuck in a message that could literally be lifesaving for hundreds of thousands of young drivers.

The PR-led CSR campaign for Michelin has earned:

• 1.5bn earned media impressions.

• 10,000+ stories on teen tire safety.

• 5.7m social engagements.

• Major top-tier media coverage in Bloomberg News, Fox Business and Forbes.

• Top-tier teen coverage in outlets like HYPEBEAST, Highsnobiety and Hot New Hip Hop.

• 83% of media coverage included two key educational messages; 65% included three or more.

• 10x traffic increase to Michelin’s website www.BeyondtheDrivingTest.com.

• 4,500+ teen photos uploaded, showing teens properly checking tire tread.

Perhaps most telling of the popularity of these Vans Michelin StreetTread collector’s shoes: pairs are occasionally spotted on eBay for sale, sporting hefty price tags of $500 or more.

This project was a winner at The Drum PR Awards 2019. To register your interest in 2020’s event, click here.

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