December 14, 2001
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v2.1 Reference

Marketing Michelin

Advertising and Cultural Identity in Twentieth-Century France

One of the world's largest tire makers and an international corporation with interests in countries around the world, Michelin is also a uniquely French company, one that throughout its history has closely identified itself with the country's people and culture. In the process, it has helped shape the self-image of twentieth-century France. In Marketing Michelin, Stephen Harp provides a provocative history of the company and its innovative advertising campaigns between 1898, when Bibendum—the company's iconic "Michelin Man"—was first introduced, to 1940, when France fell to the Nazis and the company's top executive, Edouard Michelin, died. Both events indelibly changed the company and the national context in which it operated.

Harp uses the familiar figure of Bibendum and the promotional campaigns designed around him to analyze the cultural assumptions of belle-epoque France, including representations of gender, race, and class. He also considers Michelin's efforts to promote automobile tourism in France and Europe through its famous Red Guide (first introduced in 1900), noting that, in the aftermath of World War I, the company sold tour guides to the battlefields of the Western Front and favorably positioned France's participation in the war as purely defensive and unavoidable. Throughout this period, the company successfully identified the name of Michelin with many aspects of French society, from cuisine and local culture to nationalism and colonialism. Michelin also introduced Fordism and Taylorism to France, and Harp offers a nuanced understanding of how the firm effected Americanization and modernization despite the protests of the French public. Through its marketing efforts, Harp concludes, Michelin exerted a profound impact on France's cultural identity in the twentieth century. His ambitious study offers a fresh perspective on both French social history in these years and the relationship between corporate culture and popular culture in the twentieth century.

About the Author

Stephen L. Harp is an associate professor of history at the University of Akron.


"This lively and informative book will be of interest to anyone who has ever navigated their holidays with a Michelin map or one of their red or green guides."

- Sarah Howard - Times Literary Supplement

"Harp encourages us to rethink many of our assumptions regarding the oppositions between tradition and modernity and between national and regional identity... This book is a fascinating contribution to the literature on modernization, regionalism, and consumer culture in twentieth-century France, and it will be of interest to specialists and general readers alike."

- David Allen Harvey - American Historical Review

"By reminding us that businessmen have deployed power and money to advocate causes, or that they have, through their products and their publicity, shaped our quotidian experiences, Harp's broadest contribution is to recognize that cultural history has much to gain by focusing on the producers as well as the consumers."

- Michael Miller - Economic History Review

"Harp's achievement is notable. He has offered a strong base on which to build further studies on the role of advertising in mass culture while contributing significantly to our understanding of French culture."

- Guillaume de Syon - Technology and Culture

"Stephen Harp has written a first-class advertising and cultural history that is both informative and engaging."

- Rosemary Wakeman - H-France

"Highly intelligent and engaging... Harp's sophistical blend of business and cultural history enriches both approaches and should serve as a model for other scholars."

- Ellen Furlough - Journal of Social History

"This is a fine book... a thoughtful analysis of this world-famous icon from the perspective of class, race, nation, and gender... Handsomely produced, it is a good and worthwhile read."

- Robert J. Young - History: Reviews of Books

"Steven Harp's Marketing Michelin is a fascinating, well-researched book. His strengths as a historian and speaker of French are well displayed here. His archival work is also very impressive."

- Esther Redmount - EH.Net and H-Business, H-Net Reviews

"A coherent and useful contribution to debates concerning cultural modernity and French values."

- Sharif Gemie - European History Quarterly

"Harp argues that Michelin is a prime example of how businesses can reshape cultural attitudes and assumptions, particularly through advertising. He analyses the cultural assumptions of France, including representations of gender, race, and class, in a way that is lively, interesting, and informative."

- C. R. Day - Histoire Sociale

"Marketing Michelin manages to portray twentieth-century France in several of its pivotal transformations, while lending to its portrait the coherence of a well-known cultural icon (Bibendum) traversing the century and changing with the times."

- Christine M. Cano - Contemporary French Civilization

"Accomplishes the difficult task of melding business and cultural history to make a persuasive argument for the critical role of large corporations in the shaping of national culture in the first half of the twentieth century."

- Leora Auslander - Journal of Modern History


"Marketing Michelin is an interesting, well-written, and thoroughly documented study, an original and engaging contribution that many both inside and outside of the history profession will want to read."

- Richard Kuisel, Georgetown University
Johns Hopkins University Press
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376 Pages
$58.00 USD

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