The Content Marketing Origins Behind Le Tour de France

Jul 23, 2019

In the early 1900s, French newspaper L’Auto had a big mountain to climb.

Facing stiff competition from rival publication Le Vélo and declining sales, the paper’s founder Henri Desgrane was desperate for a big idea that would save his company. Cycling journalist Geo Lefevre pitched him the idea of sponsoring a massive bicycle race that lasted for weeks and led riders around the entire country of France.

A former cyclist himself, Desgrane loved the idea and saw it as the opportunity his business needed. Dubbed Le Tour de France, the race was scheduled to stretch over 1,509 miles and take an astonishing 19 days to complete. In turn, the paper would produce coverage of the first-of-its kind event in an attempt to sell more papers. L’Auto also hoped to sell ad space in the paper at a premium and generate more revenue.

Tour de France’s Marketing Win

The event was a huge win. L’Auto increased its circulation four-fold in the first year of the race alone and was able to sprint past competing papers. At the conclusion of the sixth consecutive race in 1908, L’Auto had increased their circulation to 250,000 copies, a massive spike from roughly 25,000 in 1902.

The rest is history. Le Tour de France has grown into the most popular and widely broadcasted cycling event of the year. Millions of viewers tune in to watch race coverage, and its quintessential yellow leader’s shirt has become a coveted item among the world’s top cyclists.

Buzz that Saved the Business

In launching Le Tour de France, L’Auto pulled off a miraculous content marketing feat. By creating content the entire world wanted to see and read about, the newspaper generated enough buzz to save its business.  

Long story short: Don’t be afraid to shift gears and think outside the box when it comes to the content you produce. Sometimes taking a leap can be the shot in the arm, or leg, a marketing strategy needs. 

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Mary Margaret Gayhardt.

Forward to the peloton.

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