Motul’s Romain Grabowski on authenticity, passion and the brand’s vast potential in the lifestyle space

To find out more about Motul’s brand values, and why now is the right time to embrace licensing, we caught up with Romain Grabowski, Head of Brand at Motul.

Earlier this year, WildBrain CPLG was tapped as the global agent – excluding AsiaPac – for premium engine oil brand Motul.

The deal marks Motul’s first expansion into licensed products and will see WildBrain CPLG’s Lifestyle division develop a programme targeting categories spanning workwear, tools, garage equipment and car and bike maintenance goods.

To find out more about Motul’s brand values, and why now is the right time to embrace licensing, we caught up with Romain Grabowski, Head of Brand at Motul.

Romain Grabowski, Motul
Hi Romain, great to catch up. You’re Head of Brand at premium engine oil firm Motul. How did you come to work in this side of the business?

I started my journey at Motul as a sponsorship manager in the communications department. Step by step, by signing contracts and being proactive and ambitious, I was lucky enough to be given the responsibility of running the entire communications department. I was Head of Communications for four years, and then a year ago, as part of our business goals we identified that it was time for Motul – because our reputation in the sector is so strong – to embrace a brand and licensing strategy.

We have an incredible brand heritage… Motul was one of the first companies to manufacture this kind of lubricant, back in 1853 as part of the Swan & Finch group, so it is a natural step to continue to build the Motul brand for today’s fans and adults.

So, we created the brand team at Motul – and we’re working on three key areas: our brand awareness, our brand identity and everything related to non-lubricant products.

Why is now the right time to embrace licensing?
It came from a strong wish to strengthen ties with our community. Whenever we go to racing events, we have requests from fans for stickers, t-shirts and other accessories. We did have t-shirts, but they were mainly for internal purposes! So, amongst many other things, it was this consumer interest from fans that helped the stars align. We’ve invested a lot in our brand, the brand has become ‘trendy’ and we have a strong heritage, reputation and community.

“We see big potential in the lifestyle space. Our audience is driven by passion and they want to buy into brands that have heritage.”

Then we had a choice. To either focus our efforts in-house or embrace licensing. We chose licensing, and as soon as we announced the partnership with WildBrain CPLG, we had requests from people wanting to order product straight away! We had to tell them that we’re only at the start line. We now have an agency; we have a style guide and from June we’ll have a licensing manager in-house at Motul. The next step is to bring the right licensees on board to develop our programme.

Romain Grabowski, Motul
Exciting times. Is anyone already on board?

Yes, we have our first licensee, a Polish apparel firm called Diverse. They have 350 shops in Poland and a few other countries, and they already have the license for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Dakar Rally, so there is a solid community of petrolheads. From September, the company will launch a Motul vintage collection.

Sounds great! As well as apparel, what other categories do you think present opportunities for Motul?
We see big potential in the lifestyle space. Our audience is driven by passion and they want to buy into brands that have heritage. That’s perfect for us because asset-wise, we have ‘old style’ logos and strong black and white pictures that will translate extremely well into designs.

Within our style guide, we have a whole section dedicated to heritage and 95% of the artwork there is authentic original period artwork. We’re not creating something new that’s designed to look vintage; it’s original stuff from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

We also see opportunities in the automotive sector – car and bike maintenance goods, garage equipment, tools and workwear are all-natural extensions of the brand.

Romain Grabowski, Motul
So, you had a great archive to build from?

Yes, it’s huge. A few people in the company were already preserving things and when I joined the company, we had great stuff, but it was spread across different offices. We started collecting everything and storing it all – it’s been a 10-year journey. I’m still looking on eBay to purchase a few items that we are missing. I’ve even introduced a process whereby every time we launch a new product, we store two of them away in the archive.

Smart move! I imagine that will all prove useful should you ever launch a Motul museum or exhibition…
Well, at Goodwood Revival this year, we’ll have a pop-up vintage Motul garage from the Fifties. Last time we were there, we produced 1,000 pieces of a vintage Motul can that also featured Goodwood Revival’s logo on the back.

Romain Grabowski, Motul
Yes, I’ve seen a shot of the garage; it looks fantastic – and would also make for a very cool hotel concept.

Yes, we know that some hotels are offering such a concept. There are few hotels dedicated to petrolheads, so I think there’s potential there. Also, why not have a Motul café!

If it happens, I’m there! Now, how would you describe the core brand values of Motul?
Our style guide has a lengthy section at the start dedicated to Motul’s brand values, because they are very important to us as a company. Our key values are: ingenious, authentic, brotherly, premium, specialist, passionate and ‘make it last’. We’re all about quality and durability.

We’re coming from the lubricant industry and the company is growing pretty fast. We have a lot of new people joining the business, so there’s a mix between people that come from the ‘old’ lubricant industry, and then new people who bring a kind of ‘start-up’ spirit.

It’s an extremely complicated business to understand. Motorcycle owners, garage owners, classic car owners – they’re all potential clients, but they’re all very different. As such, our marketing and communications is extremely complicated. We can’t speak the same language to a guy with a scooter in Paris as we would with someone taking part in Le Mans.

Romain Grabowski, Motul
Alongside the brand potential, what do you think will make Motul an attractive prospect for licensees?

Well, we are specialists in developing lubricants, but we are also very good at managing partnerships and that extends to licensing. We want to support our licensees as much as we can. At some point, we will hold a Motul licensing day for our licensees and we’ll do it at a racing event to make sure they fully embrace the DNA of the brand. We don’t expect all licensees to have a huge passion for racing, but we want them to embrace the spirit.

For apparel designers and other creatives working at companies who may end up being a brand partner of Motul, what makes the IP an exciting one to design for?
There’s lots they could do, and our style guide has many exciting, creative examples. We spent several months to choose the right partner to do our style guide and I believe the agency we chose – Zebrand – did a great job. They also did the style guide for the Euro 2016 and Tour de France, so they had strong references.

From a design point of view, the Motul logo itself is pretty simple and efficient. That said, our logo can be played with and provides designers with great scope for creativity.

“There are few hotels dedicated to petrolheads, so I think there’s potential there. Also, why not have a Motul café!”

I’ll give you an example of how the brand lends itself to creativity. In the style guide, we have a t-shirt that represents the beats of iconic engine sounds from famous racing moments. For example, it might have the beats from a legendary racing vehicle. Each design comes with a QR code, that when scanned, will play that engine sound.

Very smart!
We like it! And we consider the style guide a frame for partners. If they don’t have a creative department, it’s there, but if they want to innovate around our brand, we’re open to that too as long as it fits with our brand DNA.

Romain Grabowski, Motul
Great stuff. Thanks for this Romain – very exciting stuff. Now we’ve spoken about designers, but how do you fuel your own creativity?

Most of my creativity comes from travelling and visiting racing events. The first time I visited Goodwood Revival, I was like “Oh my!”. It was a whole new world and remains the benchmark for all things vintage. The detail that goes into the activations there is amazing. Hopefully I’ll see you there this year!

Then you have MotoGP, which is a great example of how you build brands around people. They consider every rider as IP and build full concepts around their riders. Each one has their own logo, their own colour scheme, their own merchandise… It’s incredible.

And finally, you also have Le Mans, which is all about heritage. You want to buy all the merchandise there because you know that it will become collectors’ items. So, for me, visiting events really fuels my creativity.

Romain, a huge thanks again for this – and good luck with the growth of Motul as a lifestyle brand; it’s exciting stuff!

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