Avis drops classic ‘We try harder’ tagline – and a clanger with new ad campaign

August 28, 2012

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 sat-nav, 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.

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.

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

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


Seismic after-shock for Ryanair as the ash clouds clear

April 22, 2010

Now that the volcanic dust is settling, we’re beginning to see some explosive fault lines developing in the travel business. Packaged holiday companies, TUI Travel and Thomas Cook chief among them, are irate at the way the budget airlines have apparently been trying to wriggle out of their legal responsibility for repatriating stranded British tourists – while they themselves are left to bear the financial and logistical burden.

I say “apparently” because Ryanair – the largest short-haul European airline and budgetdom incarnate – has set itself up nicely by falling into its natural default role: pantomime villain. Last night we were treated on our television screens to the extraordinary spectacle of spokesman Stephen McNamara telling us that Ryanair could not, and would not, pay compensation to stranded passengers (other than the miserly £4 they might have forked out on an air fare) and it was just plain unreasonable to expect them to do so. Instead, we should blame the Civil Aviation Authority, who inflicted this phony lock-down on us in the first place, and from whom, by the way, we can expect Ryanair to extract “rapacious” amounts of money in due course for the inconvenience experienced by its shareholders over the past week.

Ryanair is a brand leader that likes to play the maverick. Its “irreverent” positioning makes me-toos, like Coca-Cola’s Glaceau Vitamin Water, look rank amateurs contending with the real McCoy. Who else but Ryanair boss Michael O’ Leary could get away with forcing his passengers to spend a penny by the simple expedient of reducing the number of on-board loos by two and persuading the airframe manufacturer to fit a lock on the one that remains? What a chuckle! And it fits the penny-pinching brand image so well.

But this time Stephen went too far. He was actually suggesting that Ryanair could break an inconvenient law – a quantum leap beyond O’Leary’s merely unethical behaviour in driving his Mercedes “taxi”  down Dublin bus lanes. That simply would not do. By this morning, O’Leary himself had announced a humiliating, if begrudging, volte face: Ryanair would be fully complying with the law after all.

However, I digress slightly. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano crisis and Ryanair’s reaction to it has opened some clear blue sky between tour and budget airline operators which astute marketers in the war-weary travel market may be able to exploit. Relentless price-cutting, which extends to hire cars and hotels as well as airline tickets, has enabled the budget airlines to turn “value for money” packaged tour deals into an endangered species – one that can’t compete on price. But, as events have proved, there’s more to a holiday than heavy discounting. Peace of mind comes at a price, and it’s one that’s enshrined in the ABTA and Association of Independent Tour Operators’ (AITO) charters, which binds all subscribers to provide a financial and logistical safety net for their clients.

If you’re flying with a budget airline, you’re on your own. That, at least, is the message Ryanair was sending out loud and clear – until the lawyers gagged it.


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