NEW YORK — In 1962, Avis was in search of a new advertising campaign. Since its inception, the car rental company had trailed behind the market leader, Hertz. So the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach decided to embrace Avis' second-place status as a sneaky way to tout the brand's customer service. "When you're only No. 2, you try harder," went the new tagline. "Or else."
The "We Try Harder" ads were an instant hit. Within a year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million - the first time it had been profitable in more than a decade. From 1963 to 1966, as Hertz ignored the Avis campaign, the market-share percentage gap between the two brands shrunk from 61-29 to 49-36. Terrified Hertz executives projected that by 1968 Avis might need a new ad campaign - because it would no longer be No. 2.
The rivalry between Avis and Hertz dates back to the mid-1940s, when Air Force officer Warren Avis, as he traveled around the country and overseas, spotted an unexploited niche in the rental car market. Avis' killer idea: Put the cars inside airports. At the time, most rental lots - including Hertz's - were located in downtowns. Avis thought he could cater to the growing ranks of business travelers who wished to fly into cities, drive to a series of meetings, and fly out the same day. "Even as we grew by leaps and bounds, the Hertz people vowed up and down that our approach wouldn't work," Avis recalled in his 1986 autobiography, "Take a Chance to Be First." That eventually changed. "They jumped in and began to copy everything that we had pioneered. I honestly don't think that Hertz has come up with an original idea yet in the airport car-rental field."