Best of Silver Anvil Winner: Michelin Hits the Pavement to Promote Tire Safety

August 2019
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It started with a metaphor about footwear.

Following years of teaching adolescent Americans about the risks of improperly maintained tires through its “Beyond the Driving Test” initiative, Michelin made a frustrating discovery.

In a survey of young drivers, the company found that four out of 10 teens today operate vehicles with insufficient tread depth or improper tire pressure. Though Michelin had made major strides in advancing the topic of tire safety, awareness, it seems, hadn’t yet turned into action.

“We consider it a national tragedy that something as simple as tire tread or tire pressure could contribute to the No. 1 cause of death among U.S. teens: car crashes,” said Edna Johnson, head of communication, brands and government affairs for Michelin North America.

Working with Ketchum, Michelin decided to take “Beyond the Driving Test” — originally launched in 2014 with Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) — in a new direction. To reach American teens, the company would need to tap into something they care about. “We had a lot of brainstorming,” said Allison Szeliga, a senior vice president at Ketchum. “We were trying to figure out, ‘What’s the right way in?’”

Researching adolescent buying habits, Michelin learned that teens spend a lot of money on shoes — a shocking 8 percent of their total disposable income. Could there be a link between quality footwear and tire safety?

“We thought, ‘There’s got to be something we can do with the analogy between sneakers and tires because tires are like the shoes of your car,’” said Szeliga. “We then had that lightbulb moment: We decided to create our own shoe.”

The ensuing campaign earned Michelin North America and Ketchum the 2019 Best of Silver Anvil at the annual awards ceremony in New York on June 6.

Finding a brand partner

With a direction now in place, Michelin set out to conquer its first major challenge — designing a shoe that didn’t just reflect the brand but was something teens could see themselves wearing too.  

They quickly connected with Steve Van Doren, an executive at iconic shoe company Vans. Moved by the “Beyond the Driving Test” mission, Van Doren signed Vans on to create a custom sneaker for the campaign.

Considering their status as a mainstay in youth culture and style, Vans was an ideal partner for a company trying to appeal to an adolescent audience with discerning taste.  

“We understand that authenticity is crucial, and Vans delivered a great ticket into American sneaker culture,” said Johnson. “Vans is an iconic brand among teens, a hashtag favorite on social media and the maker of distinctive shoes that teens collect. Vans reflects authentic youth culture and authentic street culture — Vans has ‘street cred.’”

Marketing with purpose

With a shoe brand now on board, Michelin’s next task was figuring out how the sneakers could serve as a vessel for the campaign’s message. Stakeholders needed to know that a custom Vans shoe emblazoned with the Michelin Man’s face was not created to sell Michelin products — but to incentivize change in the way teens monitor their tires.

Michelin therefore decided that rather than selling the limited-edition sneakers, which were manufactured in two classic Vans styles, they would make them available for only a penny. However, teens couldn’t simply trade that single coin in for a new pair of kicks; they’d have to prove their #StreetTread first.

Michelin wanted teens to use their penny to check for proper tire-tread depth, a quick test that can be performed by inserting the side with President Abraham Lincoln’s head into one of the grooves.

“We wanted to create a shoe and make it available, not for money, but for people who actually showed that they were taking action,” said Szeliga.

By photographing themselves performing this simple task and sharing it on social media, teens could enter a contest to win a pair of these rare Vans, while also ensuring that their tires were fit for driving.

Executing the campaign

An added roadblock for Michelin was its strict, self-imposed deadline, forcing the campaign to be completed between May and August 2018.

Each year, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the “100 Deadliest Days,” a period during which teen driving deaths spike exponentially. Michelin wanted to begin spreading the word before summer, giving adolescents a chance to learn about proper tire maintenance before the roads became a riskier place.

Therefore, Michelin knew it had to make its media events memorable.

To tease its #StreetTread shoes before the official launch party at a New York-based Vans store — which was attended by youth lifestyle outlets like Highsnobiety and included an appearance by the Michelin Man himself — Michelin sent a giant, mysterious sneaker-mobile on a cross-country trip from Costa Mesa, Calif. to New York with the campaign URL printed on the sole. The trip generated social media excitement for the shoe launch while also directing people to learn more about Michelin’s tire safety initiatives. 

In the end, the outreach efforts — which also included partnerships with popular teen influencers and key placements in Bloomberg, Fox Business and Forbes — paid off. The campaign generated more than 1.6 billion gross impressions, while scoring more than 5.8 million combined social and in-person engagements.

But the strongest marker of success was the level of participation from teens. Over 4,500 of them submitted a photo for the #StreetTread contest, proving that if the message is right, young people can be moved into doing anything — including helping make the roads a more secure place to drive.

“The results of this program indicate teens understand and appreciate our genuine commitment,” said Johnson. “Teens are willing to take action to keep themselves and others safe. You simply need to speak to them in an authentic way.”

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