In advertising, too, "If it ain't broke..."
"Meow, meow, meow, meow... Meow, meow, meow, meow... Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow."
photo by Heycooper | Dreamstime.com
That repetitive feline utterance made Meow Mix number one in cat food. It may be the most cost-efficient commercial in history. It was created by Ron Travisano in 1976 and ran until 1996.
In 1962 Avis had 11 percent of America’s car rental business. Then advertising legend Bill Bernbach began telling Americans that because it was only number two, Avis had to try harder. Four years later Avis had 35 percent of America’s car-rental business.
For no sensible reason both the Meow Mix and Avis campaigns were discontinued and replaced by campaigns that were, or will ultimately be, less successful.
Now the Meow Mix jingle is back on TV. Because when people were asked, after 16 years without the jingle, if they were familiar with it, 81 percent were sure they’d heard it within the past year. That’s extraordinary recall.
After 50 years of “We Try Harder,” a new Avis Chief Marketing Officer has stopped it for a new campaign, “It’s your space.” The CMO explained it this way: “Consumer-centric brands must always evolve in order to keep pace with ever-changing customer needs and preferences.”
What customer no longer wants you to try harder?
One new Avis commercial shows a guy rehearsing a sales pitch out loud while driving. In another, co-workers in a rental car prepare for a meeting. An announcer says, “Avis is more than a rental. It’s your space.”
I ask you, what can you do in an Avis Chevy that you can’t do in a Hertz Chevy? There is no possible brand benefit in “It’s your space.”
When Avis admitted that Hertz was bigger and told people that’s why Avis had to try harder, it differentiated Avis. You don’t throw away one of the greatest advertising campaigns in history. Instead, you go to your branches and re-train, offer incentives, and make sure employees really try harder. Then you make new commercials showing Avis trying harder.
The jingle is Meow Mix’ identity. “We try harder” is Avis’ identity. If brand identity gets stale, make it fresh, but don’t change it.
“First, do no harm” is an important credo in medicine that applies equally to advertising. A weakness among ad people is a need to put one’s own stamp on things.
Wisely, Meow Mix brought back its jingle. Alka Seltzer tossed “Speedy” then wisely brought him back. When a wiser CMO comes along, Avis will bring back “We try harder.”
Sometimes a brand can benefit from new advertising. Yet, advertising is changed far more often than because it is the true cause of poor brand performance.
In manufacturing, advertising ranks in importance below product, pricing, packaging, sales, and distribution. In retailing it ranks below location, merchandise, pricing, and personnel.
When advertising fails, it’s usually because advertising was expected to solve a non-advertising problem. If Avis has a problem, it’s not the advertising. From recent experience, I’d say it’s because Avis people have quit trying harder.