Want to know the best argument for repositioning your brand? This is the story of how Avis went from a struggling rental car service to posting record profits in under 3 years.

It’s 1962...

  • Avis has been unprofitable for over a decade
  • They trail Hertz by 32 points (Hertz 61% vs. Avis 29%)
  • On paper, they lack a competitive advantage

Compared to Hertz, Avis had a smaller dealer footprint, smaller feet, and fewer brands of cars available to rent. They were number two in every way.

Desperate, Avis decides to radically reposition their brand in a last-ditch attempt to become profitable.

The very first layout that started a groundbreaking new campaign, March 1963


  • Avis launches a new positioning that reframes their weakness (being No.2) into a strength
  • "We try harder", their new slogan, shifts the focus from fleet size and dealer footprint to customer service
  • The new positioning launches a range of service improvements across the customer experience

After initial resistance from dealers and Avis executives, the company embraced the campaign and started shaping the company around delivering incredible customer service.

True to their word, the number connected people directly to Avis' then CEO, Bob Townsend. He answered every call. June 1964
“When the campaign finally ran, the response came immediately. It worked. We got a lot of free publicity and it drove Hertz crazy.”
Bob Townsend
CEO, Avis (1962 - 1967)

Listen: Why admitting that you're second best can be persuasive and profitable [01:19]


  • Car rentals jump 28%
  • Avis posts record revenues of $31.2 million
  • Avis delivers its first profits ($1.2 million) in over a decade

To stop Avis executives from getting too cocky, they are forced to attend rental agent school for a week at O'Hare International Airport. After completing the course, they proudly start wearing red jackets to the office to reinforce the need to be connected to the daily realities of the business.

The campaign ran so long that Paula Green, the original copywriter, got bored and quit. The concept was handed over to new writers who continued the theme. January 1964


  • Avis shrinks Hertz' market share to 49%
  • They grow their own market share to 36%
  • Narrowing the gap by 19% in less than three years

Avis is sold to ITT for $52 million on the newfound strength of its brand, something that was unthinkable only a few years earlier.

April, 1964


  • Terrified Hertz executives project that Avis might need a new campaign because they'd no longer be No.2

Hertz finally decides to strike back by firing their agency and launching a new campaign to confront Avis' No.2 claims. It blunts the edge of Avis' campaign, but doesn't fully stop their growth.

Playful flirting with Cold War allusions caused a landslide of hate mail for this ad. But profits and revenue kept increasing. November 1965

Here’s why the positioning was so devastatingly effective.

1. It changed what buyers valued

On paper Avis had no way to compete against Hertz, yet it made customer service a key reason to rent from them.

2. It challenged category norms

In a world where being number one was the only option, it was both brilliant and revolutionary.

3. It was contagious

"We try harder" frames a list of service improvements into a simple a contagious slogan.

4. It had bags of personality

The ads caught the readers through their underdog appeal, sly humour and laid back explanations of the traumas of being No.2

Lesson: a strong brand positioning has the power to radically transform the fortunes of any business and can serve as a catalyst to reinvent your go-to-market approach.

Watch: How to position your brand so it comes first to mind when people are ready to buy [01:23]

If you want to read more about Avis and other case studies about great positioning, check out our free whitepaper "How Challengers Can Position for Growth".

How challengers can position for growth

Using case studies and our experience working with international brands, this presentation clearly explains how challengers can use positioning to unlock the power of brand marketing.

The way we work, works

We’re a flexible, fast-moving, group of strategists and creatives. We work as an extension of your team, relying on evidence not hunches to deliver real results, fast.
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