"I have $1 million to spend," Townsend told the agency, "and I need $5 million worth of impact."
DDB's Bill Bernbach agreed to take on Avis, which had been losing money for nearly 15 years, as long as Bernbach had free rein.
Bernbach, copywriter Paula Green and art director Helmut Krone took stock of Avis' negligible assets and enormous liabilities as they explored options.
They kept coming back to one thing. "All of our research and theirs showed that the one thing really unique about Avis was that it was No. 2 in its field," DDB account exec Lester Blumenthal said in 1962.
The DDB team decided upon a strategy that loudly proclaimed Avis' second-place standing.
"We try harder," a trailblazer in comparative advertising, scored miserably in testing: Half the people hated it. Townsend -- like most of the industry -- was at first taken aback by the campaign. "I think even we were a little dubious," he says. "All I had to say was 'Don't run it,' and they wouldn't have. But I must say, the campaign has worked out rather well."
Within two years, Avis increased market share by 28%. In 1962, when Townsend took over, Avis revenues were $34 million, and the company had lost $3.2 million. In 1963, the year the campaign broke, revenues were $35 million, and for the first time in 15 years the company showed a profit of $1.2 million. In 1964, Avis made $44 million and a profit of almost $3 million.
"We try harder" entered the vernacular and even turned up on lapel buttons. At one point, Townsend admitted, "Our problem today is how to continue to deliver