Enterprising angle

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Noting that more of its customers were renting its vehicles to transport trees rather than to get to a business meeting, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has shifted its marketing dollars to the everyday, transport-everything renter.

It breaks a $30-million national U.S. brand campaign today. The TV-only push will continue through May with a brief intermission around the holidays.

CLEAR NICHE

The marketer found that every year from 1998 through 2000, there was an average jump of 12.3% in drivers renting cars and trucks for special uses where they live.

"If you need a particular vehicle for a particular need, like a minivan for a tailgate party or a pickup for weekend gardening, you can have access to those vehicles with great ease at Enterprise," said Steve Smith, VP-advertising. The strategy affords the company a clear niche-especially at a time when the economy is hurting business travel. "Most of our competitors are airport-based and wouldn't serve this market."

The sole :15 commercial from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Avrett, Free & Ginsberg, New York, shows a man in his driveway answering his own question of "Why do I rent from Enterprise?" The pickup he's loading with plywood morphs into a minivan of young soccer players, then into a convertible, as he explains "for more cargo room, more people room or more head room." The spot ends with the brand's signature brown-paper-wrapped car and its longstanding tag "We'll pick you up."

"It takes a certain craft" to create an effective 15-second spot, said Frank Ginsberg, CEO-creative director at the agency. "You're limited as to the number of words you can use." Post-production to add the special effects, from Industrial Light & Magic, took nearly three months.

The client started using 15-second spots in 1989, when it had a $3 million ad budget for its first business-to-consumer ad campaign, its entree onto TV and its first work from Avrett Free. "If we can build a :15 that communicates the brand as effectively as a :30, it allows us to purchase a significantly greater number of impressions," Enterprise's Mr. Smith said. Bcom3 Group's MediaVest, New York, handles buying, while the agency's St. Louis office handles planning.

Privately held Enterprise has grown from just 40 sites in 1980 to more than 4,500 company-owned sites today. Most, more than 4,000, are in the U.S.; 400 are in Canada, the rest in the U.K., Germany and Ireland. Revenue for fiscal 2000 ended July 31, 2000, tallied $5.6 billion, with 493,000 vehicles vs. fiscal 1999 revenue of $4.7 billion.

RISING AWARENESS

Mr. Smith said the car rental company's brand awareness has risen as well. Enterprise's research showed only two in 10 adults said they knew about Enterprise in 1989. But now, eight out of 10 said they know Enterprise. Of those, more than 60% associated the brand with its "pick-you-up attribute," he added.

David Riedel, VP-equity research at Salomon Smith Barney, New York, said the special-use strategy makes good business sense for Enterprise because most of its offices are located in towns vs. at airports. Enterprise did start opening offices in airports a couple of years ago and now services 98 of the nation's top 100, a spokeswoman explained.

Mr. Riedel said rental car companies that rely on business travel are generally hurting due to corporate cutbacks tied to the sluggish economy. Those include Cendant Corp.'s Avis Rent A Car, Ford Motor Co.'s Hertz Corp. and ANC Rental Corp.'s National brand.

He said the category has seen more intense price competition this year, as business players try to woo the leisure customers held by ANC's Alamo brand and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group's Dollar Rent A Car and Thrifty Car Rental.

ANC, part of the grand, auto-empire vision of entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga, was spun off from AutoNation last year. On Aug. 2, the parent of Alamo and National reported a net second-quarter loss of $23.6 million on revenue of $850.6 million. ANC also announced it hired Lehman Brothers to evaluate its options, including a possible sale.

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