For 50 years, Avis Rent-A-Car used the famous ad slogan “We Try Harder”. The slogan was used in recognition of the fact that Avis was only the No. 2 rental car company in the world, and so the only way it was going to be able to compete with Hertz was to try harder.
The ad campaign was introduced in 1962, and was wildly successful, helping Avis go from operating at a loss to becoming a profitable company. 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.
In 2012, under a new CEO, Avis has dropped the “We Try Harder” slogan in favor of “It’s Your Space”. Asked why Avis is moving away from its longtime positioning, Chief Marketing Officer Jeannine 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.”
And while “We Try Harder” may be part of its DNA, recent research may indicate that being No. 2 is what really motivates its employees to deliver superior customer service.
Monica Wadhwa and JeeHye Christine Kim, researchers from the Department of Marketing, INSEAD proposed that just failing to obtain a reward (i.e., nearly winning it) in one task would lead to broader, positive motivational effects on subsequent unrelated tasks relative to clearly losing or actually obtaining the reward.
The pair manipulated a near-win experience using a game app in Experiments 1 through 3 and a lottery in Experiment 4. Their findings showed that nearly winning in one task subsequently led participants to walk faster to get to a chocolate bar (Experiment 1), salivate more for money (Experiment 2), and increase their effort to earn money in a card-sorting task (Experiment 3). A field study (Experiment 4) demonstrated that nearly winning led people to subsequently spend more money on desirable consumer products. Their findings also showed that when the activated motivational state was dampened in an intervening task, the nearly-winning effect was diminished.
In summary, the findings show that the experience of nearly winning is so stimulating that it enhances motivation on unrelated tasks.
So perhaps that was the secret to Avis’ success over all those years. Being No. 2 to Hertz using measures such as overall market share, revenues, and profits, i.e., nearly winning, really did motivate Avis to try harder on tasks such as cleaning the car, making sure the wipers worked, or cutting down on the wait time.
So not only was it a memorable company slogan, but perhaps the most honest ad campaign of all time.