Avis’ original tagline—We try harder—was penned in the 1960s, and it was a textbook example of a brilliant positioning ploy. Stuck in the #2 slot behind Hertz, the car rental company made a virtue out of their plight and milked it for all it was worth. It was a classic (and iconic) challenger strategy, perhaps one of the first and most successful, and it played to the underdog in all of us (well, 99% of us). It also served as a stirring rallying cry to Avis’ people, and an endearing promise to its customers. Can a tagline possibly do more?
Now Avis has retired the iconic slogan in favor of “It’s your space.” Whaa? The audience in Avis’ sights is business customers, and the premise is that Avis cars provide a special space for doing…well, whatever…when businesspeople are out of town. Who can argue with that? The only problem, of course, is that any rental car company could make exactly the same claim.
This isn’t always a death knell in marketing. There are parity products that carve out a strong brand identity by being the first to connect memorably with a particular audience or zeitgeist. But the key word here is “memorably.” The difference between “We try harder” and “It’s your space” is the difference between disarming frankness and calibrated advertising-ese. And how you say what you say has always been at least 50% —and usually much more—of the advertising challenge.
Times change. Companies change. Perceptions change. Avis is hardly the scrappy little underdog they were in the early 60s. And despite their size, they’ve dropped to #3 in the marketplace. It’s not surprising that a new CMO (Jeannine Haas, in this case) would feel a mandate to take a fresh look at where the company’s been and where it needed to go. But before you consign a slogan that’s so beloved and has so much equity to the junk heap, you’d better make sure you have something with the same kind of horsepower to take its place. Otherwise, it’s going to be one rocky road.