What's more, her responsibilities are expanding. She has been
overseeing advertising as well as internal and external
communications for the brand and has just been tapped to lead
Michelin's maps and guides departments. The additional role
constitutes one of the more consumer-facing extensions of
Michelin's business -- and an intriguing one, given the nearly 100
secret professionals who gather each year to select the restaurants
worthy of earning a prestigious Michelin Star.
Despite the economic downturn, Michelin's financials are
anything but tired. The company, which supplies all manner of
transport including bicycles, trucks and airplanes, and is the
biggest tire maker in the world after Bridgestone, upped its profit
goals for 2015. It cited brand awareness and strength in a variety
of global markets that is leading to increased demand.
Michelin is based in Clermont-Ferrand, a city in central France
nestled within a chain of ancient volcanoes. But Ms.
Dorland-Clauzel met up with Ad Age just outside of central Paris,
at the company's new high-rise office in the suburb of
Boulogne-Billancourt. The once-secretive company is opening up more
these days, and we spoke at length with Ms. Dorland-Clauzel about
her role and the values that are central to the Michelin brand.
On advertising during hard times...
Marketers based in Europe or those that derive a significant
portion of their business from European consumers are all carefully
watching the market and bracing for the worst, particularly in
countries such as Greece and Italy. Ms. Dorland-Clauzel, noting
that Michelin's financial results have bucked trends, believes part
of the reason for that is the strength and recognition the brand
has built up over many years. For premium brands especially, she
said, it's best not to slash prices but to stay the course and rely
on the trust they've built up while innovating with new
"When you have a crisis, a strong brand is what consumers turn
to," she said. "It's true that a Michelin tire is a little more
expensive than another brand, but you have safety and quality
guarantees, and that 's what we have to communicate. Of course, in
a [severe] economic downturn we have to tighten our budget and
spend less. But till today, we have maintained [spending], and
after my arrival we have increased our advertising spend. It's
important to be in consumer minds."
On Michelin's history as a family company
Michelin's roots are as a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand
founded by brothers Edouard and Andre Michelin, and until earlier
this year there was always a link to the Michelin family at the
company's helm. But Michael Rollier, the last relative to oversee
the corporation, in May was replaced by new CEO Jean-Dominique
Serard. The way Ms. Dorland-Clauzel sees it, the succession to a
non-family member is a positive thing, but she's also confident
that the Michelin brand will always keep the ideals of its founders
at heart. Asked if she thought having the founders' name on the
door can be constraining in terms of marketing activities, she
replied that it actually makes things easier.
"What is important and what is the difference with this kind of
company and brand is that the values and guidelines have been
established and are very strong," she said. "But it doesn't mean
that we don't manage change, of course. We have to always evolve
the mission of the brand." She noted that innovations in technology
are a top priority for the company, such as the creation of tires
that can help cars use less fuel. "Michelin is a company that
always has a long-term vision, long-term strategy and wants to
create products that help mobility."
On why brand mascot Bibendum is still relevant
"It is not an icon. It's an ambassador," said Ms.
Dorland-Clauzel of the loveable, roly-poly face of the Michelin
brand. The notion of an ad icon is one whose heyday has come and
gone, but she believes that Bibendum, as he's always been known in
France (or the Michelin Man to the rest of the world) is still
relevant today as the company attempts to conquer emerging markets
"The two brothers had the vision to create a character to be an
ambassador for the brand because it's not so easy [for consumers to
associate] with tires. They are round, dark, sometimes dirty. ...
This is very important for the brand, and it's a point of
differentiation against the competition," she said. "Awareness of
Michelin is 80% around the world -- even in China -- and in Europe
it's more than 90%, more like 92%, and that 's because he's been
used in all the communications from the beginning. I think that it
was genius to create such an icon."
The look of the character has changed over the years, with its
most significant update coming in step with Michelin's first global
ad campaign in 2009, by Omnicom Group's TBWA. It's hard to
overestimate the care with which the company considers the Michelin
Man's appearance and demeanor; every six months it conducts surveys
and evaluates how the character is being perceived by consumers
around the world, and roughly every other year it publishes a
"Passport" for the icon that 's disseminated to staffers globally.
The Passport is used to set boundaries for use of the Michelin Man
in advertising. It states, for example, that he will never be
aggressive or deliver a sales pitch, and can never be lacking in
physical integrity, such as appearing dirty or covered in mud. He
is always benevolent and can have fun, laugh and smile, and even be
a little mischievous.
On being a branded-content pioneer ...
Marketers today are investing many resources into branded
content, but Michelin, via its travel maps and dining guides, has
been at it for nearly 100 years. The Michelin Star is a global
ranking that most every restaurant covets. But people don't often
refer to it in association with its proprietor, which pays
anonymous foodies to try various restaurants and publish the
"Maps and guides are a way to have proximity to the consumer,"
said Ms. Dorland-Clauzel. "You buy a tire every two years, so your
proximity with the brand isn't so frequent -- but these guides come
out once a year, and they can be used regularly. It's a very
agreeable way to interact with the brand."
One focus of the company has been evolving the content to be
more accessible. In doing so, it has added a "Bib Gourmand" ranking
-- which has a tiny image of the Michelin Man -- to its guides. The
idea is to suggest good food that 's not expensive -- or, as she
puts it, that has "a better ratio between quality and cost."
ViaMichelin is a subsidiary of the company that houses a
digital-mapping business providing travel solutions for phones and
GPS products. It generates millions of maps each month via the web
to help customers navigate the U.S., Europe, Australia and,
increasingly, Asia and South America. It also has licensed its
brand to sell non-tire products in stores and via the website
Michelinfootwear.com. The products include slip-resistant shoes and
boots that use tire technology on soles.
Currently, the company offers its restaurant guides via a
Michelin app that it charges for (in Europe it's as much as nine
euros, more than $11), which sparked a discussion about the ability
to charge for premium content when so much free content is
available. Ms. Dorland-Clauzel agreed that it was a challenge:
"Let's see. We are trying to adapt to this new digital and
On women in business ...
Hanging on the wall in Ms. Dorland-Clauzel's office is a photo
of a female line employee in a Michelin tire-manufacturing plant.
It's symbolic not only of her rapid ascent within a historically
male-dominated business, but also of how she hopes to help shape
the future of Michelin. Hiring more female executives is a focus
for Ms. Dorland-Clauzel, and for the firm as well. It recently
instituted a new rule that mandates that for every two men, there
must be one woman hired -- a sea change for the 120-year-old