CREATIVE AD BATTLE!
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The names Avis and Hertz will be instantly recognisable for anyone who’s ever hired a car – or even been to an airport – but what might be less well-known is the advertising war that raged between the two in the 60s.
The little upstart
It all started when American firm DDB was approached by new Avis chairman Bob Townsend to help boost his company’s market share. He was told by the agency – who was also responsible for the iconic VW ‘Think Small’ ads – to give them 90 days’ free rein.
The result was the ‘We try harder’ slogan. It was revolutionary in advertising terms because it acknowledged Avis wasn’t the biggest in their niche, but turned this into a positive by emphasising how it meant they cared for their customers more.
Despite flopping when DDB ran research tests, it was hailed as a masterstroke in ad land. Fred Danzig, an Ad Age reporter at the time, said: “I remember how we gathered round the ad and simply went nuts… the audacity, the originality, the freshness, the life, the sassy spirit… It forever changed the way Madison Avenue – and the rest of us – communicated to the world.”
It wasn’t just the industry that lapped it up. When the campaign started in 1963, Avis revenues were $35m. The following year they were at $44m, and a $3.2m loss had become a $3m profit. And the extra revenue hadn’t just come from bridging the gap on Hertz’s number one spot – it also came from the pockets of those in third, fourth and fifth spots.
Hertz responds in kind
By 1966, the ads had taken enough of a hit from Hertz’s bottom line that they felt the need to respond – their market share had fallen from 61% to 49%, while Avis’s was at 36%, up from 29%. But they were in a tough position. As the market’s biggest company, they could be seen to be bullying if they went in too heavy handedly.
They called upon Carl Ally Inc, who chose to play Avis at their own game. They acknowledged they made mistakes, but highlighted that it was because they had more cars, more outlets and more coverage than anyone else.
They referenced the Avis campaign at every opportunity, but only so they could explain why they were number one in the first place.
The war runs out of fuel
The war of the car hire firms petered out after an ad showing a Hertz counter assistant patronisingly hugging her Avis equivalent under the heading ‘Aha! You were expecting another get tough with Avis ad’
DDB tried a few ads in response, but in the main the two agencies abandoned the idea amid accusations it was more a competition between themselves rather than genuine attempts to grow a client’s business.
Hertz went with far more positive campaigns that ignored the competition, while Avis started to explore avenues that didn’t highlight their status as number two quite as much.
But for a while, the battle between Avis and Hertz – and in turn DDB and Carl Ally Inc – produced ads that would forever change the face of marketing.