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The Whiteboard: An open letter to Avis on its new slogan: What was that again?

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Dear Avis,

I realize that 50 years is a long time to sustain a slogan. Imagine the cultural change it has to navigate. Just look at the changes in the rental car industry since 1962.

Yet your recently retired slogan, "We Try Harder," survived and at least kept you in the No. 2 slot in the market. Of course, Hertz has been No. 1 for 50 years as well, so I can understand that you might want to, um, try even harder.

And, with some fanfare, you unveiled your new giant killer of a tagline, the magic words that would finally break through and close the gap, at the same time putting to rest a classic of branding and marketing on its 50th birthday. Here it is:

"It's your space."

Did I get that right? I copied it from your website, so I'm fairly sure I did. In the parlance of today's vernacular I have just one word to say.

Seriously?

"It's your space." It's my space? So I'm guessing the concept is that the cabin of your rental car is my own personal sanctuary, aka "my space," not to be confused with a struggling social network which is soooo 15 minutes ago.

"It's your space." But how is it my space? What is different about the "space" when I rent a Chevy Impala from you instead of renting one from Enterprise? I know you didn't ask me (and I suspect you didn't ask anybody), but when I'm on the road, if anything is "my space" it's my hotel room, not the car I rented. I don't eat, sleep or work in the car. I don't spend a minute in the car that isn't about going somewhere.

Look, it's not easy replacing a legend, but if "We Try Harder" is Johnny Carson, "It's your space" ranks somewhere between Conan O'Brien and Roseanne.

Here's the problem as I see it. "We Try Harder" was a great, great tagline because it clearly positioned the Avis brand as a popular underdog. Trying harder ties directly into classic American work ethic: Work hard and you'll get ahead.

The tagline is said to have energized Avis workers for decades. It spoke to them as much as it did to their customers. And when employees embrace a brand concept — especially one as simple and pure as this one — a company can really make its brand fly. "We Try Harder" positioned Avis squarely against the leading and more expensive brand, Hertz.

So renting from Avis made its customers feel a little more savvy for saving some money and choosing a brand that had hardworking people like them managing the counter, cleaning the ashtrays and taking reservations.

"It's your space" doesn't do any of this. It doesn't speak to a core brand ideal. It's doubtful that it will motivate employees to act in any particular way. Heck, it barely makes sense.

You won't be the first brand to attempt to replace a classic line and struggle to make its successor catch on. Intel dumped "Intel Inside" a few years ago and went with "Leap Ahead." Remember that one? I didn't think so. After trying many other taglines, Burger King found itself going all the way back to their classic "Have It Your Way."

Perhaps the most ironic element in all of this is the number of slogans that Hertz has had in the last 50 years. You can't count them all, but they include less-than-memorable ones such as "More people by far... use Hertz Rent-A-Car," "For years Avis has been telling you Hertz is No. 1. Now we're going to tell you why," and more recently, "Exactly and Rent Wisely."

But what Hertz also has been doing for the past 50 years is fortifying its leadership position with innovations such as express check-in and drop-off, its Gold Club with privileges for frequent users, and pick-your-own-car-to-drive options. You may have had the best slogan, Avis, but Hertz has had the better brand.

Which shows that even the most durable slogan may not be able to lift a brand to the top. And "We Try Harder" may very well have run its course.

Seriously, Avis, I know it's your slogan, but could you try a little harder than this?

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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