Avis: It's OK to Cheat on Your Car

Rental Company Invites Travelers to Take a Spin in a Flashier Set of Wheels

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Avis' latest marketing strategy is to persuade you to "have an affair" with one of its cars.

In a cheeky national campaign that breaks today, the rental-car company is aiming to alter the way consumers think about its business by repositioning rental cars as a fling -- a way to break free from a monotonous routine and temporarily indulge while leaving their faithful, permanent cars at home.
Kim Lewis-Collins, director of brand marketing for Avis, Parsippany, N.J.
Kim Lewis-Collins, director of brand marketing for Avis, Parsippany, N.J.

"We're trying to make car rental sexier," said Kim Lewis-Collins, director of brand marketing for Avis, Parsippany, N.J. "[Car rental] is the last thing that people book when they book their trips. It's kind of the afterthought. ... We're trying to flip that on its head."

More business from business
Avis isn't No. 2 anymore -- the brand and sibling Budget form the "largest general-use-vehicle-rental company" in the country, according to parent Avis Budget Group, which had $1.7 billion in revenue for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. Its real strength is the in-airport car-rental business, with 60% of its sales coming from business customers. It's tough to grow such a dominant share, so Avis saw the real growth opportunity in expanding its share of the leisure market -- in part by getting business customers to bring the family and linger longer. Given that the company said in its most recent earnings report that the "domestic enplanements" are growing only modestly, Avis needed to find a way to get more mileage, if you will, out of its business customer.

Its strategy grew out of Avis research that in our overworked society, the notion of the two-week vacation is gradually falling by the wayside, leaving many trying to squeeze in some leisure travel as part of their business trips. The goal is to reach "travel opportunists" who view business trips as chances to have some fun on the side, the company said.

What a rental car offers is the chance to "trade up" from a mundane kid-shuttler to a younger, shinier partner. "When you arrive at the lot, people expect beige, nondescript cars. ... But there are really cool cars if you look for them," said Ms. Lewis-Collins, who said Avis has diversified its fleet to include a range of choices such as Hummer, Cadillac CTS, Pontiac Solstice, Altima and Toyota Prius hybrids, Volkswagen Beetle, and even a Corvette.

OK, but a rental is still a rental, and don't rental cars have a reputation for shoddiness? "Unlike other rental-car companies, Avis has a corporate customer base, and that gives a very good advantage in maintaining [its vehicles] well," said John Edwards, a San Ramon, Calif.-based industry expert and blogger. "Most of the corporate travelers do not misuse rental vehicles."

The push from Avis' agency of record, McCann Erickson, New York, is underpinned by a quartet of 30-second spots directed by Speck/Gordon, the duo responsible for the Martin Agency's Geico "Caveman" spots.

The spots are clever and dark -- each portraying a dejected, jealous family car decrying its owner's straying behavior.

In addition to premium vehicles, the work also promotes Avis' signature offerings, such as the "Where 2" Portable Navigation system the company introduced last year. In a spot dubbed "Look Back," a little red car in an airport parking lot bemoans a range of imagined offenses by his owner: "He'll probably get the Where2 GPS so he can find all of his precious, fancy coffees and driving ranges." The car tries to assuage its ego -- "Forget about him. Who needs him?" -- until the owner stops in his tracks, searching for something in his pockets. "Did he just look back?" the car asks pathetically. A reverse shot is the salt in the wound: The owner left his coffee cup on the abandoned car's hood.

The tagline for the campaign, "The other car," emphasizes Avis' idealized relationship between consumers and their rental cars.

The TV campaign, which is supported by print, online and out-of-home elements, is a major departure not just in the 60-plus-year history of Avis, but the category overall. The rental-car industry, perennially plagued by pricing pressures and small margins, historically has harped on operational excellence.
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