Michelin Man Logo

Michelin Man Logo

Logo Personification – Simplified

So much advertising ends up forgotten, with no lasting impact. Discarded, lost to the winds of time — once a company’s shifted focus, doesn’t that much-loved campaign from last quarter now feel like an ancient relic of bygone days?

Century-old logos that have exceeded their 100th birthday have a lot to teach us about the principles of creative ingenuity and strong advertising. As a prime example (and at 113 years old) let’s take a closer look at the Michelin Man.

His former name is Bibendum, the happy-go-lucky snowman-like guy, made from tyres and drawn in ink, who from his early days understood one essential truth: connection is everything.

Characters and personified graphics gained prominence in the late 1800s and quickly became a go-to staple for a variety of brands. Paula Antonelli, a curator of architecture and design, marvels at the early foresight of Michelin Man, whose creators grasped the contradictory logic that, actually, an ad image could be emotionally and intellectually useful, relevant, and crucial, even while telling consumers basically nothing about the product itself.

Popular lore maintains that brothers Edward and André glimpsed an actual pile of tires at the Lyon Universal Exhibition in 1894 and then painted Bibendum four years later to instant acclaim.

Upon his arrival, Michelin Man instantly became an easy and obvious go-to teacher. Who better to instruct consumers about the features and perks of the brand? From large-sized posters, he advised motorists on products and promotions as a literal global ambassador. A 1905 glance at Michelin ad materials found Bibendum depicted as a conquering knight with a helmet, shield, and elaborate coat of arms above that most potent Tennyson wisdom, “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my rubber is pure.”

However, while he started out propping a cigarette alongside a sometimes subtle expression, this vaguely sinister vibe meant that, like any keyed-in Mascot holding their own in a changing marketplace, he learned to grow and evolve. So, by the 1950s, a transformed Bibendum was joyously stepping down the road with a tyre and the catch-all slogan ‘I’m clinging in the rain’.

Enter The Michelin Man – A Global Star?

Today’s modern Michelin Man still wears his long-loved tyres in a slightly slimmer rendering that nonetheless recalls the iterations of yesteryear. The mascot is frequently depicted as an oversized runner, endlessly athletic and undeniably huggable. He continues to remain highly versatile; sporting a hat, boots, and scarf in Germany and the chillier Nordic countries, while boasting a sumo-fighter physique and ladies’ man vibe in Japan.

Paola Antonelli notes how updated versions present challenges for ad designers only insofar as they’re forced to meet and contend with the demands of different mediums. “At that time, you used to have the newspaper, you had your garage, and you had packaging. In a way, it was a set of applications that could be contained in a manual. Now, it’s much more complicated because the mediums are so dynamic and diverse. But, that said, with the knowledge and skills of today, one can still go back to the same abstract concept of a mascot-like logo.”

And boy do companies go back to it. But for all the Ronald McDonalds and Geiko lizards that occupy our life today, Michelin Man preceded them all. He was (and still is) the true original.