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Avis drops ‘We Try Harder’ for ‘It’s Your Space’

Remember when Sir Richard Branson stole the national flag for his own airline after British Airways said it didn’t want it any more? Well, there’s a similar golden opportunity beckoning for any cheeky entrepreneur working in the car hire sector.

After 50 years, Avis has decided to discard one of the most famous taglines in advertising: ‘We Try Harder.’

Apparently, no one thinks they do any more. Avis has slipped down the global batting order from second, behind Hertz, to third, behind Entreprise Holdings, which owns the Alamo, Enterprise and National brands.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And these measures really are desperate, as will be seen.

It will not have escaped readers’ attention that things have changed a tad in the car hire business over the past five decades. The main catalyst has been budget airlines, which have successfully turned the holiday hire car proposition into a commodity. Where once you bought, or thought you were buying, a superior service, you now buy a much stripped-down rental price. Of course, this base price is a bit of illusion, because once you have added on satnav, baby seats, ski racks and extortionate premium and super-premium insurance cover (so you don’t have to pay a £700 excess on a scraped wing or £200 for a new tyre) – Hey Presto! – it has doubled. But that’s the way it is today – if you don’t want to pay upfront, you don’t have to. Which means the car hire companies have had to look elsewhere to fatten their profits.

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And where better than expense-accounted businessmen turning a hard morning at the presentation lectern into a pleasant afternoon at the golf club?

That, at least, seems to be the thinking of new broom Avis chief marketing officer Jeannine Haas, who has fired McCann Erickson and brought in Leo Burnett to deliver her new baby.

And what a mewler and a puker it is.

Out this week, the new campaign – called ‘It’s Your Space’ – tries to communicate in a ‘lighthearted way’ how the space inside a rental vehicle can be a productive environment where business travellers can ‘recharge their batteries.’ Health and safety executives might have something to say about the way they do it but, that aside, judge for yourselves the quality of the ads:

What a pity you can’t say they are so bad they make you laugh. But they aren’t: they’re just bland beyond belief. It’s Your Space might be more appropriately titled ‘A Waste of Space.’ Which is all the more unfortunate given the brand’s legacy.

The line ‘We Try Harder’ was introduced by DDB in 1962 after Avis CEO Robert Townsend turned in desperation to the agency after many profitless years. Bill Bernbach himself is supposed to have cracked the problem by asking a number of Avis employees what it was about their service that distinguished it. But it was copywriter Paula Green who actually came up with the line.

There are not many occasions when you can unequivocally point the finger at advertising as the agent of success, but this was one of them. Within a year Avis had turned a profit for the first time in over a decade.

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I can’t, somehow, see similar spectacular results arising from the present campaign.

So, arise Sir Stelios and steal this opportunity while you may.

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.
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