Ever won­der what hap­pened to Avis’s “We’re No. 2″ cam­paign?

I always assumed Avis fool­ishly dropped it out of bore­dom. Some brand man­ager wanted to put his “mark” on things and fool­ishly killed the goose that was lay­ing golden eggs. But that’s not nearly as inter­est­ing as what really happened…

See, a few years after Avis and Doyle Dane Bern­bach launched their leg­endary cam­paign, Hertz (aka No. 1) got ner­vous about how quickly Avis was gob­bling up their mar­ket share.  So Hertz got  wise and hired the other leg­endary cre­ative agency of the day: Ally & Gargano.

And here’s the counter-campaign that Carl Ally cre­ated for Hertz:


Hertz basi­cally took that “No. 2″ posi­tion and rammed it right up Avis’s arse, detail­ing point by point what cus­tomers give up when they rent cars from the smaller com­pany: loca­tions, car selec­tion, guar­an­teed per­for­mance, cus­tomer sup­port infra­struc­ture, etc.  And you gotta love that end­ing line: “No. 2 says he tries harder.  Than who?”

That counter-campaign went for the throat.  And the results show that it worked:

2011-11-03_2028 To the right you’ll see a snap­shot from a leaf of a new book on Ally & Gargano.  You can find a dig­i­tal ver­sion of the entire page here. But the impor­tant points to note are:

1) “After only 90 days from the start [of the cam­paign], Avis aban­doned their extremely suc­cess­ful cam­paign and quickly cre­ated adver­tis­ing with no ref­er­ences to Hertz, Try­ing Harder, or being Num­ber 2.”

2) From the launch of the cam­paign at the tail-end of 1966, Avis’s mar­ket share flat-lined and Hertz main­tained their posi­tion as the leader in the indus­try (which wouldn’t have hap­pened had the ear­lier trends con­tin­ued on for another 2 years).

And that’s what hap­pened to the famed “We’re Num­ber 2″ adver­tis­ing campaign.

So what are the lessons to take away from this?

First, I think Avis wimped out on this one. If they were vul­ner­a­ble on their brand­ing, it was because they weren’t fac­tu­ally liv­ing up to their “We Try Harder” claim. But even then, they could have re-vamped their cus­tomer expe­ri­ence and fought back rather than vol­un­tar­ily sur­ren­der­ing the one cam­paign that was actu­ally work­ing for them.

Before the Avis cam­paign was launched in 1963, Bill Bern­bach insisted that Avis revamp their fleet and actu­ally improve the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence so that he had a “bet­ter real­ity” to adver­tise. If Avis was really seri­ous about keep­ing the cam­paign — and they should have been — why didn’t they make another revamp and show exactly how they “tried harder” than Hertz

Sec­ond, you sim­ply can’t afford to ignore great adver­tis­ing. If a com­peti­tor has launched an immensely suc­cess­ful ad cam­paign that res­onates with the pub­lic and that’s dri­ving increased mar­ket share, you must respond. And the only way to do that is with great adver­tis­ing of your own.

Third, counter brand­ing works both ways. Ries and Trout famously advised chal­lenger brands to “find the weak­ness in your competitor’s strength” and that’s exactly what Avis did with their “No. 2″ cam­paign. But “Mar­ket­ing is often a bat­tle for legit­i­macy.  The first brand that cap­tures that con­cept is often able to por­tray it’s com­peti­tors as ille­git­i­mate pre­tenders.”* And that’s how Hertz coun­tered Avis’s counter brand­ing — by recast­ing Avis as an ille­git­i­mate pre­tenders to the “cus­tomer ser­vice” throne.

At least, those are my take­aways.  I’d be thrilled to read yours in the comments…

* Quote taken from The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing


  1. Linda Mattacks on 11.09.2011

    I guess this is one where the truth is stranger than fic­tion ;-)

    There was another adver­tis­ing cam­paign from the ‘60s worth a men­tion here I believe. It wasn’t between com­peti­tors but nev­er­the­less shows the power of adver­tis­ing. It majored on TV in the UK and it was to pro­mote a cig­a­rette. As I recall (this may not be 100% accu­rate but close enough for our pur­poses) it fea­tured a guy walk­ing along the street (he may have been cross­ing a bridge) on his own, smok­ing a cig­a­rette, on a grey murky night. Black and white TV in those days. Very atmos­pheric. The tag line was: You’re never alone with a Strand.

    Now, the ad was very mem­o­rable but sales of the cig­a­rette were dia­bol­i­cally low. The ad was pulled and so was the brand. A few months later a new one came on the mar­ket: Embassy cig­a­rettes were adver­tised on TV and showed a good look­ing guy at a party. He was smok­ing an Embassy cig­a­rette and was pop­u­lar with the ladies and other guy, too. Sales of the cig­a­rette rocketed.

    It was the same cig­a­rette of course, just posi­tioned com­pletely differently.

    I think you’re spot on regard­ing the moral of your tale, Jeff. If Avis had truly had the courage of their con­vic­tions and were deliv­er­ing on their claims they could have pro­duced a counter attack of David v Goliath pro­por­tions and got the Amer­i­can pub­lic behind them… :-)

  2. Grimey on 11.09.2011


    If the ad cam­paign tanked in 90 day why are we still talk­ing about it almost 50 years later?


  3. Jeff on 11.09.2011


    I think you mis­un­der­stand. The ad cam­paign didn’t tank in 90 days. Here’s a bit of clarification:

    There are 2 cam­paigns under discussion:

    The first cam­paign is Avis’s famous “We’re No. 2 — We Try Harder” cam­paign cre­ated by DDBO for Avis back in 1963. This cam­paign was a huge suc­cess and, as you can see if you look back at the chart, steadily gained Avis 7 points of mar­ket share from ’63 to ’66, while slid­ing Hertz’s mar­ket share down by 11 points. This was a huge remark­able suc­cess, which is why we are talk­ing about it still today. In fact, it was so suc­cess­ful, that had it con­tin­ued to run unop­posed, Hertz had every rea­son to believe that Avis would stop being #2 by 1968.

    2) The sec­ond cam­paign was Hertz’s counter-branding cam­paign cre­ated by Ally & Gargano in Novem­ber of 1966 (prac­ti­cally 1967 for all intents and pur­poses). This cam­paign so utterly demol­ished the per­sua­sive power of “We’re num­ber 2; we try harder” that, within 90 days of Hertz launch­ing the cam­paign, Avis pulled their exist­ing “we try harder” adver­tis­ing. So within 3 months of launch­ing the counter cam­paign, Hertz was effec­tively able to “force” Avis to kill their leg­endary campaign.

    My point is sim­ply that while most every­one in the Adver­tis­ing or Copy­writ­ing world knows about the famous Avis cam­paign, almost no one knows about the Ally & Gargano counter-campaign. It’s “the rest of the story” that needs to be told, and that should be stud­ied by any seri­ous stu­dent of adver­tis­ing and marketing.

    - Jeff

  4. Jeff on 11.09.2011

    Thanks for the com­ments, Linda. Inter­est­ing stuff about Strand and Embassy cigs. Same thing here in Amer­ica: before Marl­baro became THE manly, man’s cig­a­rette of choice, it was ini­tially mar­keted to women, as most fil­tered cigarette’s where back in those days. Take the same cig and repack­age it in a brand new box and adver­tise it with “The Marl­boro Man” and you get huge, record smash­ing suc­cess. Leo Bur­nett was a genius.

    But yeah, as for Avis, they really should have stuck with a win­ner. The prob­lem was that they didn’t keep up the efforts to ensure the real­ity matched the adver­tis­ing promise.

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