MICHELIN TASTES ON A DISCOUNT TIRE BUDGET.
This is not the case study where I take credit for creating a worldwide brand icon, or an original campaign. No, this is where I posit that, while there may not be a Clio Grand Prix for perseverance, there probably should be. Let me rewind to a sunny mid-summer’s day in 2010.
Deerfield Beach, FL-based aftermarket auto manufacturer, Pylon has a particular penchant for making a quality wiper blade. And had developed one that, once you got past the whole “who-freaking-cares-they’re-wiper-blades” aspect of it all, was actually quite impressive. So impressive, in fact, that global automotive denizen and safety icon Michelin had agreed to let them market it… for a stipend… under the trusted and universally recognized Michelin moniker.
I was first introduced to their VP of marketing all of four months before their first TV spot for Michelin Stealth Wiper Blades hit the air. They were looking for an agency who understood both Michelin’s stringent standards and Pylon's comparatively anemic production budget. Which really narrowed it down to exactly one agency in the whole country - ours. (At the time, I was a Creative Director at Osborn Barr in St. Louis, who did all of the advertising for Michelin’s Agriculture Tire products).
One of my initial questions as we began to get our head around the time and money we’d have to launch this product, was the “Bib’s World” campaign by none other than TBWA/Chiat/Day’s NYC office. While not my favorite campaign in the agency’s storied history, the production value and animation by PsyOp was staggeringly impressive. So it was a fair question: Would we need to mimic Michelin’s look? It was an unconditional “no”, we were told. “We’re our own thing.”
Three weeks later, I saddled up with our Director of Strategic Planning and Sr. Account Director for a day-trip to Deerfield Beach to present concepts. Far more focused on practical application, withstanding the elements and ultimately delivering on Michelin's brand promise of safety were the ask, and we sold one of the concepts right then, right there. Which is good, because, even as of the pitch date, we had about ten weeks until their media started.
The spot we sold featured a mix of practical shooting and digital effects, showing Michelin Stealth persevering against an increasingly tough pain test of the Mother Nature's "not so fresh feeling" in a dingy “Test Lab” - the batterie administered by “is that who I think it is?” teaser shots of Bibendum, their inconic tire man. And it would have been a great spot, had the whole “No, we can do our own thing” really held true. But someone at Michelin Global saw the boards and gave our friends a very French, very final “nnnnnooo!”.
With half our budget now being disassembled off a soundstage - I called the Director of Marketing and said “We can make you a ‘Bib’s World’ board if you can find the money. I talked him through my initial script and idea (half ironically written on the back of the old script, the other half off the top of my head.) He said, "Alright, we’ll be there Monday." Then, with a pause and the gravity of a tombstone, "...so will Michelin."
Bear in mind, it’s 2pm on a Friday. But I always have an ace in the hole - and that'd be my then-ACD, JC Thorpe, the freakish sort who teaches himself 3d modeling "because it'd be cool".
At 10 am that Monday, a tense assemblage of angry Pylon clients, Michelin Global brand managers and my team assembled in the agency’s boardroom where we presented a fully-realized 20-frame boardamatic of our concept. The good news? We sold it. The bad news, we had 9 weeks and an only-somewhat-augmented budget to make it happen. A Chiat/PsyOp Michelin spot took five months and well over a million to produce. We had… well… we had considerably less.
As luck would have it, one of PsyOp’s animation wunderkids had recently set up shop as Nathan Love across town in Manhattan and was looking for opportunities to not only put his own company on the map, but subtly shove a stick into the eye of his former employer. And though my agency producer had aged six years in the past four days, we somehow managed to get all the numbers to line up. We subletted a 3 bedroom apartment around the corner from their studio, put a producer out there full time, and flew back from our first meeting with Nathan Love going “Holy hell, we may actually pull this off.”
For the next six weeks, I became very used to LaGuardia delays, taxicabs and the little broom closet area of Nathan Love where I could chain-smoke cigarettes, so as to avoid walking four flights of stairs. They had literally doubled their staff to get it done - every workstation and desk double- or triple-occupied with freelance animators, mesh-riggers, lighting artists, compositors, editors and geek-whisperers. We had a final link for approval circulating 24 hours before air and the last approval about 22 hours after that.
It’s now two years later. I’ve changed agencies and I’ve taken this business with me. My kill, my meal. Sorry, Osborn Barr. Pylon is ready to refresh their campaign and this time, we actually know some of the variables going into it.
This production story is far, far less interesting. We wrote it, designed it, produced it and completed it on time and on budget. And have since translated it into six languages, truly giving a global brand its global reach.