Bibendum: One Of The First Content Marketers?

Written by Phil Birss: Group CEO.
· 4 minute read

You’re probably asking who Bibendum is? Well, you’ll probably know him better as the Michelin man, the mascot for the well-known tyre brand. You may now also be asking why he could have been one of the first content marketers…

In 1900 (or thereabouts) tyre manufactures Andre Michelin and his brother Edouard created the very first edition of a guidebook called the “Michelin Guide”, which of course nowadays we all recognise as a guide to rather posh (and probably expensive!) restaurants.

The likes of Gordon “Done!” Ramsay and that French fella off the TV all have a Michelin star (or three) nowadays, and these ‘stars’ have become something that celebrity chefs and foodies deem to be an indicator of the very best cuisine you can be served.

Although the guide was originally created in France it is now published in 14 editions and sold all over the world in over 90 countries. So it’s fair to say that since its launch it’s come a long way!

However, handing out stars for Gordon and the like to bleat on about wasn’t the reason the two brothers began the guide…

It’s a little-known fact that this guide was in fact a way of creating interest in motorcars: all motorcars have tyres, and the brothers sold tyres. Therefore, by creating content that their potential audience would use and relate to, the brothers had come up with a way to raise awareness with the end goal of selling more tyres.

So, why did the brothers move from cars to stars?

At the time of the first edition of the Michelin Guide, there were less than 3000 cars in France (bear in mind this is the 1900’s). The brothers needed a way to get their product (tyres) in front of their potential audience, and what do people who own cars do? They travel. And in this pre-Tripadvisor era, it’s likely that when people travelled, they didn’t know where to eat.

Therefore, by creating a guide to inform travellers of the best places to eat, the Michelin brothers came up with a great way to not only guide the motorist, but also make them more likely to want to travel to places, thus using more rubber, thus needing new tyres!

And given that the guide carried the Michelin brand name (which was also quickly becoming synonymous with quality via the good restaurants featured in the guide), who was most likely to be front of mind when it came to replacing tyres? (Remember if you can get front/share of mind with an audience then share of wallet will come soon after…)

The Michelin Guide has evolved dramatically over the years; when it was first released it was free (until one of the brothers discovered a stack of guides holding a table up at a merchant’s, and he declared that “man only values what he pays for”, which still rings true today).

And as for those famous stars, they actually didn’t exist when the guide was first released. In fact, the star rating was introduced later as a way of ‘adding value’ to the guide: as popularity and usership grew, the guide needed to offer more to the user to ensure its position a recognised and valued authority.

The star system (with restaurants rated from 1 – 3 stars) was introduced to make Michelin seem more ‘real’ to their growing audience, and in order to bolster trust Michelin introduced anonymous “inspectors’, who are still used today (and they still remain totally anonymous).

early michelin star guide poster
The stars became the ‘stamp’ of Michelin’s authority, and are still regarded internationally as a sign of credibility and trust. Interestingly, in 1931 the cover of the guide changed colour from red to blue, and of course blue still remains the tyre brand’s colour to this day.

What can content marketers learn from Bibendum?

Content marketing as we know it is pretty much the same today as it has been since good old Andre and Edouard embarked on their guide over 100 years ago. Sure, the delivery mechanisms are different now than they were then- they didn’t have social media, websites, video etc. But what they did have was a product that they wanted to sell, and an audience that they needed to sell it to.

The Michelin brothers’ content did a number of things:

1. It gave their audience something new that they’d never had before, it informed them, and gave them value. Therefore, it got shared!
By sticking to those simple rules, you still can’t go wrong today.

2. It became trusted: by creating the star system and using inspectors, the Michelin guide became much more than a guide for where to eat in a certain location- it became a guide for standards as well. If your content comes from an authoritative source, produced by people who are experts in their field, you gain trust from users and your audience grows.

3. It worked! There are not many brands that have existed for over 100 years that still lead the way in their marketplace, yet Michelin are still regarded as one of the most valuable tyre brands around today, worth something in the region of over £400,000,000. Which just goes to show: content really is key to business success.

Looking for Michelin-star-worthy content that elevates you to the dizzy marketing heights of that big guy made of white rubber? Of course you are! Get in touch today to see how we can help.