The Avis ad campaign in 1966 of “We Try Harder” reinvented their business.

In 1962, just before the first ‘We try harder’ ads launched, Avis was an unprofitable company with 11% of the car rental business in the USA. Within a year of launching the campaign Avis was making a profit, and by 1966 Avis had tripled its market share to 35%.

The problem is that, like Home Depot over the past few years, they customer service has slowly eroded. I experienced this first hand this week.

The problem started when I arrived in Houston without a reservation for a rental car. I called down the list of rental agencies in order of my preference. They were all sold out except for Avis who claimed to have a compact car for rental at $62/day. I took the shuttle to the off-airport rental lot and stood in line at the Avis desk.

When I reached the front desk I was greeted by an employee who was either having a bad day or just worked too many hours.  I asked for a compact and inquired about the price.  He responded that it was $76/day.  When I started to ask about the quote I was given on the phone he said nothing and simply pointed to his monitor showing a price.

At this point I would have been happy if he had said something like, “who quoted you that price?” or anything that showed he cared.  I really wanted him to try just a little harder.

After accepting the rate and completing the booking I asked for directions to my hotel.  He looked up the hotel in a book and started to scrawl notes on the back of a pre-printed card.  When I realized this would not help someone who had never been to Houston before, I asked to see the book and copied the directions to a piece of paper.

I then asked how to get from the parking lot to the freeway.  He began to ignore me, probably thinking I had taken up too much time already.  I then asked the assistant next to him about directions to the freeway.  She told me “it’s easy you just take the toll-road”.  I asked again saying that this was my first time to Houston and had no idea what the toll-road was or how to get there.

After giving up on both assistants I picked up the car and proceeded to get lost.  I never knew that the toll-road was also named highway 8.  Had either of the two assistants listened to me and explained this I would have been happy with my experience.  I remember leaving the rental lot and seeing the “We Try Harder” slogan on the wall.  I just laughed and took a picture of it.