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History of the Michelin Man Mascot

Published on September 11, 2023 - 5 minute read

The history of one of the most recognized mascots

Discover the story of the Michelin Man mascot, the official mascot of the Michelin tire company, and recognized by truck drivers around the world.

Wherever you are on the planet, you’ve likely come across the Michelin Man mascot. Whether you see him rolling down the highway on your truck tires in the U.S. or perched atop a semi-truck in other parts of the world, did you ever wonder how he came about?

nunc est bibendum poster

nunc est bibendum poster

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“Nunc est Bibendum”: the Michelin tire drinks up the obstacle

Back in the late 19th century, in the early days of the company, the Michelin brothers were exhibiting their products at a fair in Lyon when one of them noticed that if you added arms and legs to the pile of tires they were showcasing, it would look like a man.

A few years later, with the contribution of a caricaturist, the Michelin Man was born. Well, the first version of him. He was actually adapted from a character in an advertisement for a German brewer; in the process, he switched from drinking beer to having the capacity of “swallowing the bumps in the road”, as the early slogan went, to make the ride smoother. That idea is where his name originated: Bibendum, from the Latin phrase “Nunc est Bibendum”, which translates as "now is the time to drink!".

The Michelin Man is an ambassador, not a single logo

In those days, as you might have seen in old movies, tires were white, so the character naturally adopted that color, which he has kept to this day. Also, the main tire market back then wasn’t for cars, but for bicycle wheels, so he was created as an assemblage of thin rings, unlike the ones we’re familiar with today.

He immediately became Michelin’s brand ambassador: in promotional campaigns of the early 20th century, people dressed in Michelin Man costumes would hand out little Bibendum dolls to the crowd as goodies. You can imagine how popular those quickly became.

This friendly mascot who inspired trust and emphasized the comfort provided by Michelin tires, was a big success. Also, as a brand ambassador rather than a fixed logo, he’s had the capacity to evolve through the decades, which enabled him to always stay relevant to the changes in our lifestyles and even successfully enter the digital world.

Old and New Bibendum

Old and New Bibendum

Bibendum - a smiling and caring global symbol

Just see for yourself: over the course of a century, he got rid of his cigar and monocle, lost any connection to drinking – not a great combination with driving – and got fitter: he lost weight despite switching from thin bike tires to thick truck tires, became younger looking and swapped his boots for sporty driving shoes. All those changes certainly made him much more mobile, but one element remained: he always kept his white color.

As Michelin has grown and evolved over the years, so too has the Michelin Man mascot as it embodies the company's values. The Michelin Man being seen on Michelin tires through the years is a reminder to customers of what brand keeps them traveling on the roads safely year after year. 

Thanks to the combination of the positive values he represents and his capacity to always stay modern, the success of the Michelin Man never faded. So much so that in 2000, shortly after his 100th anniversary, he was voted best logo in the world by the Financial Times, and a study showed that 90% of the world’s population could instantly recognize him!

 

bibs through history

bibs through history

An iconic product becomes an international trend

At some point over the course of the Michelin Man’s popularity, a new idea was hatched. Certain enthusiastic Michelin customers in Europe and Asia came up with the idea of attaching their promotional Michelin Man mascots on the roof of their vehicles, particularly on trucks.

After World War II, the development of radial tires, a revolution in the automotive industry, accelerated this movement, while strengthening the presence of Michelin in the truck world. It also associated the brand’s ambassador with the superior safety provided by its tires. As the image of the Michelin Man, a three-dimensional mascot, has become the perfect embodiment of the brand’s values, he became a sort of guardian angel watching over the driver and his truck.

While the trend hasn’t gained popularity in the U.S., the popularity of having the Michelin Man on trucks continues around the world. So, if you’re ever traveling abroad, be sure to look for the Michelin Man mascot atop big rigs in Brazil or a tuk-tuk in the busy streets of Thailand.

A brand icon that is loved by all and universally recognized, the Michelin Man is a truly unique symbol, with no equivalent in the trucker world or anywhere else.

Listen to the podcast for an extended version of this article.

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