Michelin Tires commenced an ad campaign about 1985 that featured a baby sitting by a Michelin tire. This baby looks at the camera with his mouth half-open, expectantly looking out of the ad at parents who drive. The baby’s innocent look challenges parents to purchase anything less than a Michelin tire. After all, the slogan says what the baby’s look implies: “Michelin. Because so much is riding on your tires.” This slogan reminds customers that the safety of their family’s future is at the helm of every tire purchase. Only parents who do not care about their baby or family’s safety could conceive of purchasing anything other than a Michelin tire.
Although the ad is selling tires, it asks the viewer to associate their desire to protect their family with their tire purchase. The tire commercial could be about the tires’ performance, or reveal statistical data about the superiority of Michelin tires; however, it is an implication that the Michelin tires are the only conscientious choice for any decent, caring parent.

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The ad could have featured the tire without asking the viewer to make associations. This could have been accomplished by using tire-specific data, such as the tire outperforming other tires in comparative tests in order to establish its superiority. However, by using the baby and appealing to pathos, Michelin foregoes the need to establish superiority, the ad just assumes its own superiority and obligates the viewer to assume that Michelin tires are better than any other tire. The baby establishes authority in this ad that circumvents the need to prove that the ads claims are true. The baby implies a sense of urgency that Michelin tires are the only way to protect him while on the road. Moreover, in order for the little baby to grow up, he must make it to his future. Hence, “so much is riding on your tires” and the similarity to the colloquialism, “Your future is riding on this”.

The advertisement persuades the viewers with its visual hook, the baby’s plaintive gaze, and little hand, that holds on to the tire for dear life. This advertisement accomplishes many emotive responses in the viewer, from panic, to being awed at cuteness, to the security of knowing that once these tires are on the viewers’ car, their baby will be safe. This ad also preys on the psychological knowledge that humans are attracted to infants, and that the human eye is immediately drawn to the baby and is enamored with the baby. Therefore, the visual hook is the baby. The tire is just background, albeit a supportive background as the baby is holding the big, strong, Michelin tire with his frail, cute, little hand.

The tone of this advertisement is deceptively cute. It has a feel-good factor that an ad of this nature should not. What this means is that, essentially the ad is about imminent harm and danger, and possible death, however, the baby is soothing to the viewer…until the viewer realizes that Michelin tires must be purchased, or that the baby is in danger. The tone is one of admonishment masked in cuteness.

The target customers are primarily parents with babies; however, by extension the target customer is also grandparents, and anyone who is conscientious enough to care for other peoples’ babies. This is made clear by the baby’s questioning look and his hand on the tire. He is alluding to the necessity to buy the tire if his life is valued.

This ad also depicts the baby in diapers, because clothing would have been a shield between him and the viewer, or him and the tire. The fact that the baby is in a diaper makes him more vulnerable and susceptible to the dangers that could occur on the road without Michelin tires. The skin to skin contact of the baby juxtaposed next to the tire suggests a natural relationship between the baby and the tire. The tire is positioned behind the baby, because the baby takes precedence over all. The viewer cannot help but to feel guilty if the tires on their vehicle are not Michelin.

This ad appeals to the pathos of all parents. A huge fear for parents with infants is being in a car wreck. This is evidenced by the numerous “Baby On Board” signs that new parents have suction-cupped to their car windows. There is a huge paranoia that parents have about the safety of their family, and this paranoia is increased when parents have young infants. This ad, therefore, appeals to the fear of every parent that something might happen to their family. Moreover, the ad does not employ a 16-year old boy, who would also represent a child, but the pathos is lessened the older the child becomes. The strategic use of the baby appeals to a pathos that is rooted in our survival instinct, therefore, this ad panders to this survival instinct on a primal basis.

The pathos of this ad is transparent, yet the ad works. The baby is a safe “go-to” advertising ploy that easily accesses the pathos of the majority of all viewers. The associations that the tire ad conjures up are those of cuteness mixed with the veiled threat of imminent harm should the viewer make an unwise tire purchase. The reason the ad works so well is because it awakens a primal instinct to protect the baby and appeals to the “aww” factor because of the baby.

    References
  • Michelin Ad, 1985 (print). Google Images, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.