After 50 Years, Avis Drops Iconic 'We Try Harder' Tagline

New Campaign Repositions Car-Rental Firm to Appeal to Busy Businessfolk

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After five decades, the "We Try Harder" tagline that 's been synonymous with the Avis car-rental brand is being shed in favor of a new one.

This week, the company rolls out a new ad campaign and a new tagline: "It's Your Space," targeted at busy business travelers. Created by Leo Burnett USA's arm in New York, Leo Burnett Business, the focus of the ads will be to lightheartedly communicate that the space inside rental vehicles is where business travelers can recharge or be most productive while they're traveling.

The ushering in of a new positioning puts to end a tagline that was introduced by DDB years ago. "We Try Harder" was the result of Avis in 1962 looking for a refreshed brand image under then-CEO Robert Townsend. It had a difficult streak during which it failed to make a profit, and it turned to DDB for help.

The tagline was penned by DDB copywriter Paula Green and was actually rooted in the response that Bill Bernbach, the co-founder of DDB, helped elicit from company management when asking why anyone ever rents a car from them. "We Try Harder" then became a promise that Avis was making to consumers about the quality of its service, as well as a way to elevate the brand's status despite being the second-largest car rental company behind Hertz.

It was a huge success for Avis. In a matter of a single year, that campaign reversed the company's fortunes, helping it to go from losing $3.2 million to turning a profit of $1.2 million for the first time in 13 years.

In a period when taglines and brand positioning typically come and go every few years, the endurance of the "We Try Harder" motto was unique. Its disappearance is a sign of Avis' CMO, Jeannine Haas, putting her stamp on the company. She's been there just over a year, after spending several years at American Express and before that , Ford Motor Co.

Asked why Avis is moving away from its longtime positioning, Ms. Haas told Ad Age : "Consumer-centric brands must always evolve in order to keep pace with ever-changing customer needs and preferences." She added that "Avis is evolving as a premium brand to better meet those needs." The new tagline, she said, is "reflective of [Avis'] ongoing mission to be a customer-led, service-driven company, and presents the brand in terms of the customer experience and the advantages inherent in renting from Avis."

She added that the previous longstanding motto isn't quite extinct. "We firmly believe that after nearly five decades, 'We Try Harder' is fully embedded in the Avis DNA, and defines the spirit our employees embody to deliver superior customer service."

Under Ms. Haas, Publicis Groupe -owned Leo Burnett won the North American creative account in February of this year, while its sibling, Spark -- a spinoff of Starcom Mediavest Group -- was awarded the media account. The move was a blow to Avis' previous U.S. creative shop McCann, which still does work for the brand abroad. Avis has about 5,200 locations in more than 165 countries.

The new campaign clearly positions the brand as the choice for corporate, rather than leisure travel.

The campaign launches with three national TV commercials. One spot, called "Rock Out," shows a businessman rehearsing an uncoming presentation by belting out the words in his car while he's driving to the meeting. In another, called "Deal Closer," a group of coworkers use their rental car to prepare for a meeting and then head out to the golf course together to celebrate their good day.

The spots are airing through November, and will be supported by a print push -- with buys including space in The Economist, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal -- as well as online and at airport terminals. The brand's website has also been tweaked so that it now declares on the homepage, "With Avis it's more than a rental. It's your space." And in a new twist, the brand says an iPad campaign is also forthcoming.

The campaign's launch coincides with a big consolidation in the rental car space, with Avis' rival Hertz agreeing to a more than $2 billion bid to purchase Dollar Thrifty. The acquisition has been long-rumored and Avis at one point also had been weighing buying Dollar Thrifty but dropped its bid.

So is Avis still No. 2? According to Auto Rental News, in 2011 it was No. 3 behind Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, National) with 920,861 cars in service and Hertz with 320,000. Avis, the publication said, had 285,000 cars in service last year.

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