The Michelin Man has been named “Icon of the Millennium” by Advertising Week, the US-based global conference series for marketing,
branding and advertising leaders.

The award comes as the Michelin Man or Bibendum as he is also known celebrates his 120th birthday this year.

One of the oldest trademarks in the world, Bibendum has helped propel Michelin to its 11th place in the worldwide ranking of Reputation Institute.

Since his birth in 1898, the company mascot has contributed to the success of Michelin, a world leader in tyres and guides, and helped create a bond between the brand and its customers.

He is more than just an advertising emblem, says Michelin’s Adeline Challon-Kemoun.

“He is a living character who embodies the Michelin Group, its values, commitments and missions.”

The Michelin Man has his origins in the Universal and Colonial Exposition held in Lyon in 1894.

Édouard and André Michelin noticed a stack of tyres that suggested a figure of a man without arms.

Four years later, André met French cartoonist Marius Rossillon, popularly known as O’Galop, who showed him a rejected image he had created for a Munich brewery — a large, regal looking figure holding a huge glass of beer, quoting Horace’s phrase “Nunc est bibendum”.

André immediately suggested they replace the man with a figure made from tyres.

And so it was that O’Galop transformed the earlier image into the Michelin symbol.

Bibendum’s shape has changed over the years and so has his colour.

O’Galop’s original design was based on bicycle tires, wore a pince-nez and smoked a cigar.

From 1912 onwards, however, tyres became black when carbon was added to the compound as a preservative and a strengthener.

Prior to this they were a grey or translucent beige in colour.

To match the new black tyres Bibendum’s appearance also changed, becoming black.

He must have been a little too scary, because although he featured briefly in a couple of print ads, his appearance quickly reverted.

The company citied printing and aesthetic issues for the change — not racial concerns as commonly believed.

By the 1980s, Bibendum was shown running, and in 1998, to mark his 100th anniversary, a slimmed-down version became the norm.

The slimmer figure reflects the lower-profile, smaller tyres of modern cars.

Bib has even been shown with a similar-looking puppy as a companion when the duo were animated for recent American television commercials.

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.