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Why advertising doesn’t work and some idealism

Came across this interesting post from Dave Trott’s blog at Brand Republic – Why advertising doesn’t work. He recounts the experience of Robert Townsend, the CEO of Avis in the ’60s, with regard to advertising. As we know, Avis’ classic, ‘We are No.2, we try harder’ created by DDB is considered a classic that helped build the Avis brand. Apparently, DDB was chosen because the Avis CEO asked ‘a dozen agencies, which were the two best agencies in town. Everyone said themselves and Doyle Dane Bernbach. Which was how Townsend found out which was actually the best agency in town’. The article goes on to talk about how Bill Bernbach essentially asked for enough time to understand the business and then ‘run every ad we write where we tell you to run it’.


It’s all summed up in what the Avis CEO did: he wrote ‘The Avis rent a Car Advertising Philosophy,’ and had it framed and hung in everyone’s of?ce (at both client and agency). It reads:

1. Avis will never know as much about advertising as DDB and DDB will never know as much about the rent a car business as Avis.

2. The purpose of the advertising is to persuade the frequent business renter
(whether on a business trip, a vacation trip, or renting an extra car at home) to try Avis.

3. A serious attempt will be made to create advertising with ?ve times the
effectiveness (see #2 above) of the competition’s advertising.

4. To this end, Avis will approve or disapprove, not try to improve, ads which are submitted.
Any changes suggested by Avis must be grounded on a material operating defect (a wrong uniform for example).

5. To this end, DDB will only submit for approval those ads which they as an agency recommend. They will not “see what Avis thinks of this one.”

6. Media selection should be the primary responsibility of DDB. However, DDB is expected to take the initiative to get guidance from Avis in weighting of markets or special situations, particularly in those areas where cold numbers do not indicate the real picture. Media judgments are open to discussion. The conviction should prevail. Compromise should be avoided.

Sounds idealistic and wish every client followed it. But then, it assumes that all agency teams are capable enough to understand the business and provide the ‘unquestionable’ right solution in strategy & creative every time. Townsend’s observation, ‘don’t hire a master to paint you a masterpiece and then assign a roomful of schoolboy-artists to look over his shoulder and suggest improvements’ would ring true for most agency folks. The essence of all his observations would be about ‘right strategic & creative recommendations based on true understanding of the business, without tampering’. Are we equipped to deliver?


Ex-ad man. Love advertising, Apple, tech, digital, design and all things creative. VP - MarCom, @Robosoft. Views personal. See disclaimer for more.