Features

My favourite ad campaign of all time: The Avis ‘We Try Harder’ print series of 1962

Legendary ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach was able to turn being number two car rental brand in the market into a true marketing advantage by way of brilliant copy and placement – writes Patrick Michael Balo of Ace Saatchi & Saatchi in Manila

In the early 1990s, I was a journalism student taking up an advertising class because – well, I needed an elective.

The class was pretty mundane until one day our teacher asked us to take a fake brand’s position as the number two player in its category, and make it the brand’s biggest selling point. Of course, everyone failed miserably and for what was probably the first time that semester, I was genuinely intrigued by the task.

It was then that I was first blown away by what I still consider to be the most ingenious print ad series in advertising history.

  

Yes, I’m talking about the Avis ‘We Try Harder’ print series of 1962 in the United States, where ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach was able to turn being number two into the best argument for better service. And in a world where being number one was the only acceptable position to be in, it was both brilliant and revolutionary.

What followed was a masterclass in copy crafting and strategic audacity, as Avis and DDB were able to contextualise the many ways being number two made them better than being number one.

And while Hertz, the number one player in the rental car category then, pointedly ignored Avis’ cheeky print campaign, they couldn’t ignore the fact that the company’s market share dropped from 61% to 49%. Meanwhile, the market share for Avis grew from 29% to 36%. That’s creative effectiveness at its very best.

Finally, in 1966, Hertz blinked and acknowledged that they had a worthy rival by coming out with their own print series.

  

It would have been nice if Avis was able to finally supplant Hertz as the number one car rental company. I guess they have to be content with having, in my opinion, one of the best and most memorable print ad campaigns in history. That is not a bad legacy to have.

Patrick Michael Balo is creative director at Ace Saatchi & Saatchi in Manila, Philippines

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