Insights & Analysis

In 2014, Michelin identified a life-threatening problem. Improperly maintained tires were contributing to the number one cause of teen deaths in the U.S.: car accidents. A combination of primary and secondary research showed that neither parents nor driver’s ed materials were set up to educate teens about this important topic. In response, Michelin launched its Beyond the Driving Test initiative, setting a goal of gaining commitments from all 50 U.S. states to include consistent information about tire safety in new driver training materials.

By summer of 2017, Michelin had secured commitments from all 50 states and implemented a program to train hundreds of driver’s ed instructors in the process. Michelin turned to the next challenge: moving teens from awareness to action and adoption of new behaviors.

Michelin knew it had made major strides in advancing the topic of tire safety, but it also had a sneaking suspicion that critical tire maintenance checks weren’t making it all the way from textbooks to driveways.

To learn the truth about where the rubber meets the road, Michelin commissioned a survey of teens in seven major U.S. cities with high teen driver populations. The results were alarming: 4 in 10 teen drivers were driving on unsafe tires (e.g., insufficient tread depth or improper tire pressure).

Having confirmed its suspicions, Michelin zeroed in on moving teens from awareness to action. Michelin began to dig into teen passion points, focusing on the best way to motivate and incentivize teens to step up.

A quick review of secondary research showed that teens spend a shocking 8 percent of their total income on shoes (compared to 9 percent on their cars, 8 percent on video games and 7 percent on electronics). The teen footwear craze was real: in 2016, the largely teen-driven athletic footwear market surpassed a whopping $17.5 billion.

That’s when it clicked: When it comes to getting from point A to B, teens do care greatly about pressure and tread – of their shoes! Could connecting the dots between sneakers and tires be Michelin’s “shoe-in” for success? We aimed to find out.

Planning

Michelin’s strategy was simple: speak teens’ language using sneakers as the platform. It was time to introduce the Michelin Man’s new shoes and use them as a metaphor – and incentive – to help young drivers think of the shoes on cars (tires) like the shoes on their feet. The multi-year goal was to connect with one million teens to drive behavior change. The team set a goal of 8,500 engagements

Michelin set its sights on creating and leveraging its own Michelin-inspired ultra-limited edition #StreetTread sneaker.  But it was up against a strict deadline as the timing of the campaign period (May-August) was strategic and significant: each year, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the “100 Deadliest Days” during which teen driving deaths spike dramatically. Michelin wanted to be out and spreading the word before summer began. If Michelin could save even one life by ensuring teens were driving on safe tires, it would be a success.

We quickly identified the perfect partner: Vans, the original youth culture brand and icon of creative expression, and one of the top footwear brands for teens. And as it happened, the company first opened its doors as the Van Doren Rubber Company in 1966, making its roots very similar to those of Michelin., The team fast-tracked a new design featuring the iconic Michelin Man and produced shoes in two classic Vans styles: Classic Sk8-Hi and Old Skool.

The shoes would become the proxy for talking about performance and the importance of tread and pressure – not just for your kicks, but for your tires, too. The shoes were also the carrot to drive teens to conduct important tire pressure and tire tread checks. If the teens wanted to get their hands on the limited-edition kicks, they couldn’t just walk into a store and buy them. No, the only way teens were going to cop the shoes was to prove their #StreetTread.

Execution

While limited-edition kicks typically go for hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars, Michelin caused a stir by announcing the #StreetTread sneakers would be uniquely obtainable with just a penny. But rather than collecting the coin, Michelin asked teens to use it to check for proper tire-tread depth (by inserting the side with Lincoln’s head into one of the grooves. If any part of Abe Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, you’re driving with the legal amount of tread).

To tease the #StreetTread shoes, Michelin and Vans went big – literally. On May 1, a giant sneaker-mobile departed Costa Mesa, C.A. bound for New York City with the campaign URL printed on the sole. Social media buzz grew as consumers from California to Ohio and up the east coast documented the journey, while teaser content from Michelin and Vans-affiliated channels fueled speculation about the larger-than-life sneaker.

The cross-country journey culminated a few days later in an official launch party at Vans highly-trafficked NYC Union Square location, unveiling the shoe to 30 media in attendance (including youth lifestyle outlets – like Highsnobiety and HotNewHipHop.com – representing a new vertical for Michelin) and hundreds of consumer passersby. Visitors received “BibCoins” (Michelin Man version of a penny) with instructions on how to enter the #StreetTreadContest by performing a tread depth test with a penny or BibCoin, or by checking tire pressure.

Extending its reach and to sustain momentum over the three-month campaign burst, Michelin partnered with two influencers wildly popular among teens, leaning on them to hype the shoes on an ongoing basis throughout the contest and share key tire safety and program messages peer-to-peer. In tandem, influencer and other paid content was amplified with dark ads targeting the teen audience.

After the contest’s conclusion, Michelin kept the online and offline engagement around #StreetTread tire safety rolling. The promise of a limited-edition lace pack further incentivized about a third of the winners to share #StreetTread unboxing videos with their networks, making them effective ambassadors for the brand’s message.

Meanwhile, Michelin had something even bigger in store for one lucky teen in L.A., where long daily commutes in the car are a reality for teens and adults alike. Timed to National Teen Driver Safety Week, Michelin, in partnership with the retailer America’s Tire, descended on Port of Los Angeles High School where a winning student was presented with the limited-edition #StreetTread sneakers and a set of Michelin tires. Flanked by the Michelin Man, the winning student helped kick off the first of a series of schoolwide tire safety pep rallies. Over 350 students attended the L.A. event, learning about critical tire safety maintenance and putting their knowledge to action with parking lot tire tread and pressure checks.      

Evaluation

#StreetTread has been a major success in driving teens to action and connecting the dots between something teens are passionate about (shoes) and a serious, life-saving issue (tire maintenance) which is too often overlooked. 

When Michelin first launched #StreetTread, it aimed to reach 1 million teen drivers through contest promotion and related program activations, such as high school and local dealer events, and achieve 8,500 engagements (e.g., contest entries, social engagements on tire safety and #StreetTread content, and onsite event participation such as attending pep rally).

Based on client tracking and Cision analysis, within the first six months of the campaign:

  • The #StreetTread campaign generated more than 1.6 billion gross impressions, including 1.5 billion earned media impressions from major top tier and target right media, including Bloomberg News, Fox Business, Forbes, HYPEBEAST, Highsnobiety, Hot New Hip Hop and more  
    • Initial results smashed the reach goal, with at least 37 million of recorded impressions directly reaching teen target audience
    • 83% of coverage included two or more key messages; 65% included three or more  
  • Traffic to Michelin’s website www.BeyondtheDrivingTest.com increased 10 times at launch
  • The campaign generated more than 5.8 million combined social (e.g., views/comments/likes/clicks/saves, etc.) and in-person engagements (e.g., attendance at school activations, using BibCoin or pressure gauge at sponsored event) 
  • Teens took action In Real Life (IRL):  4,500+ teens proved their #StreetTread by checking their tires and submitting photos online using #StreetTreadContest, sparking conversations around tire safety in the process.

And it’s not over yet. #StreetTread’s mission to help save teen lives via proper tire maintenance, which has become a core element of Michelin’s DNA, will continue through ongoing local activations and tire safety workshops.

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