Content marketing doesn’t get better than the Michelin Guide

Sep 29, 2017

In 1889, two French brothers took over a struggling rubber company, and wasted no time turning it around.

They soon patented a new type of tire that was easier to repair, and demonstrated that inflatable tires were better than the previous alternative, solid rubber tires.

But they still lacked customers. There were only a few thousand drivers in all of France. Roads were rudimentary. Cars were expensive.

They realized they couldn’t thrive by beating competitors alone. They needed to get more cars on the road, more often.

That’s when Edourard and Andre Michelin became content marketers. In 1900, they published a 575-page guide guidebook that gave motorists everything needed to explore. It included recommendations for hotels and restaurants, directions for where to get gasoline, even instructions for car repairs.

The first Michelin Guide, a.k.a. the Red Guide. The original had about 30 pages of ads, and 50 pages of instructions on Michelin tire care, leaving several hundred pages of useful information for motorists.

By 1920, they were selling 100,000 copies annually. By 1930, they had several editions, professional food critics, and international renown. It was not only profitable, but also elevated the overall Michelin brand.

Americans don’t grasp the gravity of the Michelin Guide today. It only launched here in 2006. Overseas, though, it’s kind of a big deal.

The guide ranks restaurants on a three-star scale; you can’t overstate the value of three stars. One famous French chef likened it to winning Olympic Gold. When Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants lost two stars, he cried.

And the fact that it’s run by a non-media company is key to its staying power. Because Michelin isn’t beholden to advertisers, its judges are famously objective. That makes the guide remain revered, even in the age of Yelp.

A vintage Michelin ad, proclaiming the Michelin tire “drinks up obstacles.” Fun facts about the Michelin Man: his name’s Bibendum, he’s white because car tires used to be beige, and he used to look aristocratic because only the wealthy owned cars.

Some say the guide’s changed dining culture. It absolutely changed driving culture.

Long story short: marketing doesn’t exist to simply push products. Michelin’s a shining example that marketing can actually create markets.


This article was written by Lee Procida. It first appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short.

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