ADVERTISING DOESN’T WORK LIKE WE THINK IT WORKS
Recently I spent an afternoon with one of my heroes, Ed McCabe.
Ed was, after Bill Bernbach, one of the most influential advertising people in New York.
Bill Bernbach introduced charming, intelligent advertising.
Ed introduced aggressive, intelligent advertising.
Two different schools, but both great.
One of the most powerful advertising campaigns of all time was DDBâ€™s campaign for Avis, done by Helmut Krone.
Briefly, Hertz was by far the biggest car rental company.
Avis was just one of many smaller competitors.
Avis attacked Hertz by making a virtue of being smaller.
Avis portrayed Hertz as complacent.
The fat cat of car rental.
Avis were smaller so they couldnâ€™t afford to be complacent.
â€śWe Try Harderâ€ť became one of the greatest lines of all time.
It soon made Avis the second biggest car rental company in the US.
And it scared the daylights out of Hertz.
So Hertz changed ad agencies.
They went to Carl Ally, where Ed McCabe was working.
Edâ€™s ads took the same approach as Bill Bernbachâ€™s: use your competitorâ€™s strength against them.
DDB had managed to turn being the biggest into a negative.
Ed McCabe would turn being smaller into a negative.
Ed ran ads like: â€śFor years Avis has been telling you that Hertz is number one. Now weâ€™re going to tell you whyâ€ť.
And: â€śIf you had fewer cars, in fewer locations, what would you promise? Right: we try harderâ€ť.
And: â€śItâ€™s the little dog thatâ€™s keeping the big dog on topâ€ť.
I recently saw a documentary about what happened when that campaign ran.
Bill Bernbach walked into Helmut Kroneâ€™s office.
He dropped the Hertz campaign on his desk and said â€śLook at this, as of today our Avis campaign is deadâ€ť.
And that was the real result of Ed McCabeâ€™s advertising.
It managed to scare the daylights out of two of the greatest creatives who ever lived.
It scared them into scrapping the Avis campaign.
From then on they did â€śWe Try Harderâ€ť without attacking Hertz.
When I was talking to Ed, he said heâ€™d spoken about it afterwards to Helmut Krone.
He said to him â€śWhy did you drop that campaign? You dropped it too fast, there were still years of life left in it, that was a great campaignâ€ť.
It was a relief to hear that, because thatâ€™s what Iâ€™d always thought.
But, because Krone and Bernbach were two of my heroes, I thought I must be wrong.
They must know something I didnâ€™t.
Ed McCabe said â€śNo, they were just wrong.They got scaredâ€ť.
The Hertz campaign made the staff at Hertz feel good.
But it didnâ€™t have anything like the traction with ordinary people that the Avis campaign had.
The Hertz campaign was appreciated by people in advertising.
But the Avis campaign was loved by people in the real world.
The power in Edâ€™s campaign was in scaring his competition into dropping a campaign that was working so brilliantly.
With power and aggression, heâ€™d frightened the daylights out of Helmut Krone and Bill Bernbach.
And thatâ€™s a valuable lesson about advertising.
The target market isnâ€™t always the target market.