Avis: The Ultimate Challenger

What do you do when you are number two in a market that is dominated by a big player who shows no signs of budging? Do you fight and fight and keep ending up on the losing side? Or do you consolidate your position and garner sympathy? Well, the former seems to be the right answer, I mean you’re bound to strike gold one day, right? Well, meet Avis – a brand that chose the latter path and ended up creating one of the most iconic marketing campaigns of all times.


Avis – a car rental service, was first started in 1986 at Willow Run Airport in Detroit with an $85,000 investment by Warren Avis. Since then, the ownership of the company changed many times, but one thing that was consistent was its failure to match up to Hertz, which was the market leader. Until 1963, Avis tried its best to wrestle against Hertz and win, but then the President of Avis, Robert C. Townsend, decided that the company needed to refresh its image. Doyle Dane and Bernbach were roped in for the job, and thus the ‘We Try Harder’ Campaign was born.

Avis Avis Avis

Thus began a campaign that lasted 50  years and became one of the longest running marketing campaigns in history. Avis started the number twoism and played on people’s feelings of support for the underdog to maintain its status quo in the market, and management students began studying the Avis case study in classrooms.

Avis is a classic example of a challenger brand, which is is simply a brand or business that wishes to aggressively occupy the territory or market currently held by established others, usually through a differentiated offering and/or approach.

A similar example would be Pepsi, which has always played second fiddle to Coke in the everlasting Cola Wars.

Thus, when it comes to marketing, it doesn’t matter who you are or how big you are. What really matters is how creative you can get and how dynamic is your thought process, and Avis proves just that. Even though the brand has now dropped the tagline ‘We try harder’ and goes instead with ‘It’s your space’, the formal will go down in marketing history as the campaign that led to the resurgence of the underdogs.

Author: Arko Mukherjee


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