Thursday, February 21, 2013

A “Big Idea” that Delivered

What is your favorite "Big Idea?"  More fundamentally, do you know how to define a "Big Idea?"  Well, today, at Makovsky, we start an eight-week (one class per week) agency-wide instructional program  called "Managing the Creative Mind: In Search of the Big Idea."  Even we, who use "Big Ideas" regularly, need to review the elements from time to time, particularly in this digital age.

Thus, I want to discuss one of my favorite "Big Ideas."

Sometimes the best ideas in marketing completely defy conventional wisdom.  At the time, they may even seem unacceptably risky.  But experience and intuition are two variables that can trump custom and convention ... as in the story of the "Big Idea" that re-launched Avis, the car rental company, in the 1960s.

It was 1962.  The business was car rentals.  The market was simple:  Avis had a tiny share (11 percent) and hadn't made a profit in 13 years; Hertz was the leader by a country mile.  Avis president, Robert C. Townsend, was talking with his ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) about ways to boost his business.

"Are Avis's cars newer than Hertz's?" the ad men asked.


"Does Avis have more rental locations?"


"Lower rates?"


"Isn't there some difference between the two?"

"Well," said Townsend, thinking for a moment.  "We try harder."  I imagine — at that moment — the clouds parting, sunshine breaking through and the heavenly choir singing "Hallelujah."

DD&B now had what they needed for a "Big Idea"...

"Avis is only No.2 in rent a cars. So we try harder."

It was truly unique and instantly recognizable.  At that time, it was "We Try Harder" that illuminated an important insight, strengthened by repetition:  Avis will never give up, never surrender.  It's a uniquely American attitude.

It was also audacious ... even shocking.  No company had ever before described itself as an "also-ran."

One of the litmus tests of a "Big Idea:"  "We Try Harder" also worked across all media platforms ... including print, radio and TV ads; stuffed into employee pay envelopes; and even on the ubiquitous "We Try Harder" buttons.  Avis's concept was a powerful, honest and engaging platform for a whole variety of marketing communications and media channels.

Within a year of the new campaign, Avis was making a profit.  By 1966, Avis's share of the market had more than tripled — to 35 percent.

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